Levelling-Up White Paper: Early reactions

MP's in parliament are still discussing Michael Gove's long-awaited Levelling-Up White Paper, which Gove presented to the chamber this afternoon.
Lisa Nandy

MP’s in parliament are still discussing Michael Gove’s long-awaited Levelling-Up White Paper, which Gove presented to the chamber this afternoon. Here are some of the earliest responses to the paper from key figures in politics, business, and society.


Gillian Charlesworth, CEO of Building Research Establishment

“We welcome the White Paper’s intention to improve people’s wellbeing and standards of living by enhancing the quality of the UK’s housing stock. We are pleased to see recognition of the links between the economy, health, and the built environment but we really need to see more detail on the measures required to deliver these outcomes.


“Local authorities will need clear support and direction if they are to deliver high quality housing within the community – but how in practice this can be achieved was missed by today’s paper. Many local authorities have already struggled as successive budget cuts have limited their capacity to focus on delivering the levelling up agenda. We hope to see further detail on the Government’s plans to support them with the skilled people, financial resources and data that they need.


“Another key area of opportunity missing from today’s White Paper is a clear and long-term plan for decarbonising our buildings and training the hundreds of thousands of retrofit workers needed to deliver net zero. Measures that support a clear and effective plan to improve the quality and sustainability of the UK’s housing stock should be at the forefront of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda – but today’s paper signals a missed opportunity to outline this.”

Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up secretary (pictured)

We’ve had two and a half years of big promises and big talk from the government, and what we’ve just been handed this morning seems to boil down to a bunch of recycled money and repackaged announcements, which are so old they were actually first announced when Labour was in government by Gordon Brown.

I think for most people around the country this is deeply, deeply disappointing. No new money, no new powers. The government says it will initiate a process of dialogue with northern mayors, but nothing more than that.

 Richard Vaughan and Paul Waugh, i

According to government sources, even those behind the white paper believe it falls short of what had been promised when the prime minister vowed to “level up the country” when he entered Downing Street.

Everyone, including the Secretary of State [Mr Gove], thinks it’s s**t”, a government insider told i. The white paper is understood to contain an essay penned by former Bank of England economist Andy Haldane, who heads up the government’s Levelling Up Taskforce, which was described to us as “interesting – but it’s just an essay”.

Peter Hawthorne, CEO, London and Continental Railways

The recognition of the vast untapped potential of the under-used land surrounding our railway stations is exciting, because this is so crucial to unlocking the regeneration of place that is a cornerstone of this Levelling Up strategy.

We’ve seen this potential realised at Kings Cross, as Michael Gove has mentioned before. And will soon see it in cities like Sheffield, where the Levelling Up Fund’s investment into maximising the potential of reduced rail travel times to London will help to bring forward the Sheffield Midland and Sheaf Valley Regeneration Framework, which we have worked on alongside our partners in the city and the wider region.

While funding is one part of the puzzle and no doubt the focus of much of the feedback on today’s announcement, the other critical element is collaboration between devolved authorities, councils, transport executives, government agencies and landowners. This strategy provides the framework and impetus for this to take place.

Campbell Robb, Nacro CEO

We know tackling poverty and inequality is key to levelling up. For over 50 years Nacro has been embedded in communities helping some of our nation’s most vulnerable people through our housing, education, and justice services. We see a huge amount of unmet need in our country. We need radical change to the systems that support people and significant funding to address this need, not just ambitions and slogans. Until there is right support, opportunity, and funding in place for everyone to succeed regardless of the circumstances, we cannot truly claim to be levelling up

The Northern Research Group, which represents Conservative MPs from the north of England

We are happy that not only has the government set out a bold timescale in which to deliver levelling up by 2030, but that the government has also embraced many of the ideas set out by the Northern Research Group, including attracting foreign direct investment devolution and driving up educational skills and standards. This demonstrates that the best ideas to drive the future economy of the north are derived from the north.

Jonathan Walker, policy director at the North East England Chamber of Commerce

For a long time we have campaigned for Government to recognise the damage that the inequalities between regions do to the national economy. We therefore welcome the Levelling Up White Paper.

It is a good description and acknowledgement of many of the symptoms of the economic gaps in our country. But this diagnosis is only part of what we need. We now have to see how serious Government is about giving the North East the necessary resources and focus, and to working with us.

The White Paper talks about a series of missions. To be successful a mission needs strong leadership and a relentless focus on delivery. Levelling Up must not simply exist in the minds of policy makers; it must be felt quickly by businesses and communities across our region.

The desire in the North East to improve our economy is enormous, as are the rewards for doing so. Today must mark the end of decades of under-investment and the start of a new approach to economic development, coupled with a commitment by Government to take the tough decisions to prioritise resources towards the areas that need them the most.”

Henry Overman, professor of economic geography in the department of geography and environment at the London School of Economics, director of the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, research director of the Centre for Economic Performance

Unfortunately, we need to recognise that these policies are likely to benefit high-skilled workers more than low-skilled workers. For talented children growing up in struggling towns, increased opportunities nearby offer the option of commuting or a small-distance move, making it easier to maintain links with family and friends. Moreover, some of these benefits will trickle down to the lower-paid in the form of moderately higher wages and improved employment rates, but at the cost of expensive housing.

Sadly, while all these trickle-down benefits are possible, London – with its many poor neighbourhoods, expensive housing and high poverty rates – points to the limits of this approach for improving outcomes for those at the bottom of the income distribution. A more equal spread of graduates – and globally competitive cities in each region – may help reduce spatial disparities and may even help improve the overall performance of the economy, but it is no simple fix for improving outcomes for poorer households. To do this, complementary investments must make sure that households can access the opportunities generated.

The current debate often interprets this as being about ‘better transport’. For many poorer households, however, transport investment generally will not be enough. Again, examples from London illustrate the issues – Barking and Dagenham (areas in the east of London) have good transport links to one of the largest concentrations of employment in the world, but this is not enough to prevent low earnings for many households who live there. If poorer households are to benefit from the kind of investments described above, then they will need help to improve their education and skills.”

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