In February 2022, the UK Government published its Levelling Up White Paper.
The paper outlines 12 missions – targets to be achieved by 2030 across a range of policy areas – where infrastructure can make an important contribution.
This policy position statement draws on evidence received from an ICE consultation earlier this year into the role of infrastructure in levelling up.
It makes a number of recommendations to ensure that clear outcomes from levelling up are defined at the outset.
Any potential infrastructure investment could be wasted if we do not know what levelling up is trying to achieve in different places.
Given the many competing priorities for infrastructure investment at the moment, it is important to get this right.
The main findings are that the 12 levelling up missions are generally the right areas to focus on – the government has set the destination, but the question now is one of achievability.
However, when it comes to the outcomes from levelling up, there is no reference to environmental impacts or climate change.
Levelling up and the climate emergency are two challenges that cannot be treated individually – in fact, they are intrinsically linked – and the government needs to join the outcomes from them together.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their indicators must also feature more prominently.
The SDG indicators can be used as a framework to map policy options, such as infrastructure investment, against what places want to achieve. The UK government has committed to achieve the SDGs, and the 2030 goal for achieving them aligns with the timeframe for the levelling up missions.
Much of the levelling up narrative has focused on region-to-region interventions, but, in reality, the focus must be on micro-scale interventions.
Local needs assessments, informed through community engagement, can outline where infrastructure can be part of the solution to addressing inequalities, and can drill down at a micro level to determine what is required.
Finally, there are data gaps that need filling to ensure the right outcomes at the right regional level are being measured. This is particularly evident where metrics and targets are unambitious or vague, such as the mission on public transport.
It’s welcome that the government is defining what success looks like for levelling up in measurable terms, but some outcomes must be measured at a more localised level.
- There should be clearer alignment between levelling up and net zero.
The UK has the appropriate top-down commitments to net zero and levelling up in place, but there is little formal alignment between the two.
Levelling up and the transition to net zero must be mutually reinforcing if either is to be a success. The government is due to publish its updated Green Finance Strategy later this year.
Through the Green Finance Strategy, the government should outline an integrated approach to investment in net zero and levelling up, aligning the net zero transition with the outcomes from the wider levelling up missions.
- Local needs assessments are required to achieve optimum outcomes.
Prior to defining the infrastructure interventions that can help achieve levelling up, regional and local social needs must first be identified.
The more that is understood about what is needed at a micro-level, the more local governments can understand exactly what interventions are required.
Local authorities should undertake local needs assessments to ensure that there is a good understanding of the inequalities that levelling up investment in infrastructure should address, and to ensure that the benefits of investment reach those who are in most need.
With the right evidence, investment can be correctly targeted at the right outcomes.
- Where possible, the levelling up missions should be aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There is very clear synergy between the SDGs (and their indicators) and outcomes from levelling up, particularly linked to the role of infrastructure.
This includes job creation, the ability for infrastructure to generate economic activity, protecting the environment, and the benefits to society that infrastructure can bring through safe, reliable, affordable and accessible systems.
The UK Government has already fully embedded the SDGs in the activities of each department and as the levelling up missions become similarly embedded, it would seem natural to align the two.
This would ensure that existing evidence on measuring progress on the SDGs can be used to measure progress on relevant levelling up missions.
- The National Infrastructure Commission’s design principles should be applied to infrastructure investment aimed at levelling up.
Investment alone will not deliver the outcomes defined by levelling up and the SDGs. Investment needs to be well-designed, integrated, and developed in response to local needs assessments.
The application of the National Infrastructure Commission’s design principles to infrastructure investment directed at levelling up can support this holistic approach, alongside the appointment of design champions to help deliver the best outcomes.
Good design can enhance the long-term value of assets, and is critical to ensure that infrastructure is accessible and inclusive to all.
- Metrics for measuring progress on levelling up should be geared towards local outcomes.
There are currently missing and vague metrics for levelling up that, unless addressed, will make it harder to deliver the missions.
There is also a risk that broad metrics, such as on productivity growth, will result in outcomes in already high-performing areas lagging in comparison to the lowest-performing ones.
To ensure that parts of the country are not ‘levelled down’, the missions should set specific targets for high-performing areas, as many already do for the lowest-performing areas.
ICE policy position statement: defining the outcomes from levelling up
Content type: Report
Last updated: 16/06/2022