Budget 2021: Locality claim speech reinforced government’s centralised approach to levelling up

The chief executive of Locality welcomed the Chancellor’s spending announcements in the Budget but argued that the speech shows the government is sticking to its centralised approach to levelling up.

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said: ‘This budget and spending review was a big opportunity to define the government’s flagship levelling up agenda and chart a new course for the country after the huge challenges of the last 18 months.

‘In aiming to inspire an ‘age of optimism’, the Chancellor has used the greater flexibility in the figures granted by the Office for Budget Responsibility to make significant spending pledges. Most notably announcements on universal credit, early years support, youth centres and local government funding are a vital course correction after a decade of disinvestment.

‘However, when it comes to economic development, both the style and substance of the Chancellor’s speech reinforced a business-as-usual approach. Treasury control over the Levelling Up Fund may have enabled some good party-political lines in the Commons, but it highlighted a centralising tendency that’s the wrong way to maximise local potential. What’s more, the focus in the main on big ticket infrastructure projects fails to give enough priority to investment in the underlying social infrastructure which is required to make investment stick for the long-term.’

people sitting on chair in front of table while holding pens during daytime

Tony Armstrong welcomed the launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund but noted that the government have still not provided details on its design, and he argued it is crucial that the fund enables local communities to invest in their own priorities for the local economy.

He was also pleased to see the first 21 projects announced for the Community Ownership Fund, calling it a ‘brilliant opportunity to save local spaces and empower local communities,’ but he said that future rounds need to be more flexible in their eligibility criteria, which excluded many community organisations from the first round of funding.

The chief executive concluded: ‘The detail of levelling up has been deferred to the Levelling Up White Paper which we now expect in the coming months. Community power can be the thread that knits the levelling up agenda together and connects it to people’s lives. Shifts in the patterns of economic development spending need to be accompanied by lasting shifts in power. With talk of new and improved devolution deals, these need to involve ‘onward devolution’, creating powerful new institutions at the neighbourhood level. Local people know best where the opportunities to drive forward their neighbourhoods are – we need to put them in charge.’

In related news, today’s Budget and Spending Review is a positive step for low-income families in work, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), but it will not benefit those who cannot work, such as disabled people and carers.

Photo by Dylan Gillis


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