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Infrastructure blog

Influencing the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda

08 September 2020

Following the closure of the six-week consultation period for ICE’s ‘levelling up’ discussion paper, the Institution’s policy team is now busy examining the responses and planning next steps.

Influencing the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda
Improving regional transport connectivity is key to the ‘levelling up’ agenda. Image credit: Shutterstock

With the term ‘levelling up’ having seemingly been positioned as the mantra under which the current government is operating, ICE felt it necessary to understand what this might, and should mean for the development of infrastructure policy.

Back in July, we published a consultation to ask our members and other interested stakeholders what the ‘levelling up’ agenda should mean for the infrastructure sector. Through this lens, the consultation questions focused on a range of factors including funding and financing, infrastructure planning and governance frameworks.

Early analysis of the consultation feedback

The consultation was comprised of a range of different evidence gathering activities. These included interviews, written submissions and roundtable discussions.

It’s clear from early analysis of the evidence base that has been compiled that there is concern around the extent to which ‘levelling up’ up has been adequately defined by the government and therefore uncertainty in terms of the types of societal outcomes that are being sought.

On infrastructure specifically, several of the written submissions to the consultation identified the need for the development of a set metrics to help determine how the ‘levelling up’ agenda should be positioned, and its impact measured. These could include, for example, indicators related to transport access and connectivity, the provision of digital infrastructure, levels of fuel poverty and the condition of assets and networks.

There was also healthy support for long-established ICE policy positions related to the need to improve how regional infrastructure planning in England is currently done. This includes widening the remit of subnational transport bodies so that, in time, they can focus on identifying all economic infrastructure need for a given area (rather than just transport) through the development of evidenced-based regional infrastructure strategies.

A suite of regional strategies for England setting out what the long-term need is across transport, the utilities and other networked infrastructure would help to guide local planning and investment decisions; increasing the chances of the right infrastructure being built at the right time and in the right place.

Next steps for ICE policy development in this space

In due course the government will be publishing its long-awaited devolution white paper. The evidence that we have collected through our consultation will enable us to feed into subsequent policy development following its publication; ensuring that the views of ICE members and the industry are considered.

Prior to the white paper being released we will also be meeting with government officials to understand the live questions that they are currently grappling with in this space to ensure that we hone our input accordingly. We will also be seeking further input from members and other experts to help us to do this.

Missed the consultation?

If you missed ICE’s ‘levelling up’ consultation over the summer, but would still like to feed in your views on these important issues then do feel free to do so at: [email protected].

As a reminder the consultation questions were:

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

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE