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Infrastructure blog

Adding definition to the government’s ‘levelling up’ narrative

09 November 2020

The National Infrastructure Commission has published a new report examining how infrastructure can support growth in different regions. Here we explore how this relates to ICE’s work in the ‘levelling up’ space.

Adding definition to the government’s ‘levelling up’ narrative
Manchester aerial view - The NIC report outlines the role that infrastructure can play in supporting regional growth

Back in the Summer the Institution launched a discussion paper to gather expert views on what the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda means for the infrastructure sector. The paper focused on the sorts of outcomes (both economic and social) that the sector can help improve across English regions, alongside the supporting governance and investment frameworks that will be required to achieve them.

The consensus from this exercise was that the government had fallen short in adequately defining what it is seeking to achieve from ‘levelling up’, with supporting metrics for measuring success and impact also largely absent.

From an infrastructure perspective it was unclear what the governments aims, and means are. Is the focus simply on more equitable levels of investment across regions? Boosting productivity? Improving service delivery? A combination? Or something altogether different?

Achieving sustainable growth across the regions

The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) report Growth across regions is a helpful contribution to the discussion. The report sets out the NICs remit to support economic growth in low productivity regions at the same time as ensuring that high-performing ones remain buoyant.

Picking up on the specific role that infrastructure can play in supporting regional growth the report outlines three pathways: addressing constraints to growth; contributing to transformation; and universal provision.

The NICs analysis and approach is useful because it can help to bring the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to life as opposed to it remaining firmly in the abstract. For the infrastructure sector it provides the basis for moving towards more effective outcomes-based project and programme delivery at the regional level.

The devolution white paper and looking ahead to 2021

As we continue to wait for the publication of the government’s devolution white paper the NICs intervention is an important reminder of the need for a strategic approach to regional infrastructure investment and development.

As ICE has long advocated, this is something that we believe can be achieved through the development of regional infrastructure strategies that set out evidenced-based investment priorities across the different regions in England.

In practice, this means a range of plans that articulate long-term transport requirements, energy and water needs, flood risk management provision and so on. An approach that integrates the NICs lasting thinking should also be explored.

The lead into next year’s mayoral elections will shine a light on the need to get regional infrastructure planning right. With this in mind ICE will be running a series of online roundtables and events in early 2021 to discuss these issues in more detail.

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE