What does ‘levelling up’ mean for the infrastructure sector?

ICE has published a discussion paper to gather views on what the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda means for the infrastructure sector.

Boris Johnson unveiling government plans to "build build build". (© Flickr)
Boris Johnson unveiling government plans to "build build build". (© Flickr)
  • Updated: 15 July, 2020
  • Author: Ben Goodwin, ICE Lead Policy Manager

A key Conservative Party slogan during the 2019 general election was a promise to ‘level up’ the UK. It was a phrase used repeatedly throughout the Conservative campaign to garner support for the party’s programme for government from across the nation.

The extent to which this tactic alone affected the outcome of the election is of course hard to gauge, but there is no escaping that the Tories won, and that they won big.

There is also no escaping that now, in government, the ‘levelling up’ narrative continues to permeate through many of the big public statements and announcements that the prime minister or members of his senior team make.

This was the case in recent speeches given by both Boris Johnson and the Chancellor as the government has begun setting out its plans for the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

But what does’ levelling up’ actually mean and why is it so important in the context of the infrastructure sector in the months and years ahead?

‘Levelling up’ and the infrastructure sector

On the face of it the levelling up agenda appears focused on ensuring more equitable investment in services across the UK (and in England specifically), in order to deliver better economic and social opportunities for all parts of the population.

The role of infrastructure in enabling better economic and social outcomes is important in this respect. Hence, the discussion paper that ICE is publishing today goes someway in highlighting how more effective approaches to regional infrastructure planning and investment could reap rewards for many businesses and communities.

It also shines a light on the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on regional economic growth and how important place-based approaches to the recovery are likely to be over the coming months and years.

ICE’s ‘levelling up’ consultation

The discussion paper also includes a series of consultation questions. Their aim is to help inform the development of ICE policy in relation to regional infrastructure planning and delivery predominantly in England. 

The focus of the consultation is on economic infrastructure (e.g. transport, energy and water networks) as opposed to social infrastructure (e.g. hospitals and schools). 

The questions are as follows:

  1. What should ‘levelling up’ mean in the context of economic infrastructure?
  2. What are the priorities, in terms of economic and social outcomes, for infrastructure in the context of ‘levelling up’ and how have these been affected by Covid-19?
  3. How could subnational infrastructure bodies be integrated into existing infrastructure decision-making frameworks?
  4. What approach and criteria should be used to develop regional infrastructure strategies across England that can support the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda?
  5. What models of investment are required to ensure that infrastructure is adequately funded in all regions across England?
  6. How can the development of regional infrastructure strategies be leveraged to ensure that investment flows to projects and programmes across England?

The consultation closes 31 August 2020 and responses can be made to: [email protected]

Read the full paper

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