Last week Michael Gove presented the Government’s White Paper on Levelling Up. Levelling UP was a manifesto commitment and I think it is the most important policy initiative and announcement of this Parliament.
At the moment, the proposals are being presented as a ‘white paper’, which means they are subject to change. This gives interested parties the opportunity to put forward ideas and influence what has already been proposed.
For me levelling up is about two principal things. It is about improving peoples’ lives where they already live, and it also about closing the gap between the more prosperous parts of the country and those which are less prosperous – not by hampering one, but by improving the other.
To try and achieve this goal, the Government will focus on four key areas.
Firstly, there will be a great emphasis on skills and education. This will go right through from primary school to university and will include colleges, apprenticeships, and training in the work environment. In a modern economy it is absolutely vital that we have the skills necessary to ensure a prosperous and successful country. It can also go a long way to help close the skills gap between the north and the south of the country.
Secondly, it is about infrastructure. The Government has already announced £96 billion pounds of investment in the rail network, but infrastructure also includes, roads, air – and of course for a modern economy, digital infrastructure.
Thirdly it is about ensuring quality housing and an environment that we would all want to live in. People from one part of our country shouldn’t feel like they need to leave to go to another part of the country for a better life.
Finally, it has to be about community and leadership. Communities so often feel the distance from centre of power in London and other larger cities. It is therefore vital there is real devolution of power and responsibility to local communities and leaders.
I would also add a fifth element is about ensuring that the private sector invests in different parts of the country. At the end of the day, it is the private sector that will drive innovation and create the wealth that we are all dependent upon to ensure that we have the quality public services that we want to see.
Of course, all five of these elements are interlinked. The one helps bring about the other, which helps bring around another. This is the exciting part of Levelling Up – as well as where the challenges comes in.
I find this is a very exciting agenda and much of it is already happening in Carlisle. We have investment in our skills and education through our schools, but also the proposed construction of a new campus for the university in the centre of the city. We are seeing infrastructure investments through digital but also in our railway station and the prospects of a southern link road. We are fortunate that we have one of the nicest physical environments of anywhere in the country, but we are also seeing house building going on that will create homes for the families of the future. On top of this, we are also starting to see changes to our local government structure which will hopefully lead to better leadership with more powers and more efficient delivery of services. There is also still the prospect of a combined authority and Mayor which can also be beneficial to the wider area of the county of Cumbria, and give the county a figurehead on a national level.
All this has to lead to private investment in our city, also. We are seeing investment in our major factories and quite recently I was at the opening of the Clark Doors new £3 million research and development centre. A fantastic business exporting to all parts of the world based here in Carlisle. There are many other businesses in the area doing similar things and we need to ensure that they get all the support that we can give them as they are central to the prosperity to Carlisle and Cumbria.
Levelling Up is an exciting agenda and I want Carlisle not just to be part of it, but to be a leading example of how it is done – bringing the full potential out of our great city!