In Cities Outlook 2021, Centre for Cities’ found that the pandemic has made the task of levelling up four times harder than when it was first promised in 2019.
Northern cities alone represent two fifths of the levelling up challenge. Unlike before however, the Covid-19 pandemic has also caused the ‘levelling down’ of many places in the South, where prior to the pandemic ‘levelling up’ wasn’t an issue. London, Slough and Crawley are amongst the hardest hit. London saw the highest increase in universal credit claims during the height of the pandemic and now has the highest proportion of people on Universal Credit of any British nation or region.
Levelling Up was already a huge task, but the crisis has complicated the agenda tenfold and made it much harder to work out which regions of the country are subsidising others.
In March 2021, the Conservative Government announced the ‘Levelling Up Fund’ promising £4.8 billion in funding. The Government however has been accused of playing ‘pork barrel politics’ over the allocation of a £1 billion towns fund with 40 out of the 45 areas mapping closely to Conservative held constituencies. Places like Barnsley, Sheffield and Hull which rank amongst the highest on the Government deprivation index for the UK are not a priority.
This latest news raises the questions around the real agenda behind levelling up. Is it meant to benefit those communities who have been left behind, or it is designed simply to spruce up electoral seats being targeted by the Tories?