Like all political slogans ‘Levelling up’ divides opinion. One the one hand there are those who believe that it represents a change in Government thinking that will see regions like our own prioritised for investment. On the other, there is a view that it is simply a vacuous soundbite which, if you scratch the surface, has very little substance and even less money behind it.
Did Boris Johnson’s speech last week offer any clarity?
Not really. It was long on platitudes but short on detail, instead offering some glimpses of what might emerge from Whitehall later this year. But nevertheless, there is no denying that money is coming. Whether it is enough money and whether it is the right kind of money (it is almost entirely capital funding) is up for debate, but the Levelling Up Fund provides a pot of £4.8billion for local areas to bid for to support infrastructure projects. This follows more than £480million of Town Deal funding awarded to the North West alone.
For the property and construction sectors there is no question that this will mean growth in our region. There will be new homes, there will be new offices, there will be refurbishment of the public realm and there will be highways upgrades. From a proposed new market in Birkenhead to Preston’s planned Youth Zone; from Blackpool’s bid for a sports village to the prospective Oldham eco-park; these investments will create and sustain jobs in the construction sector and certainly change the face of many of our towns, even if they do not radically change their economies.
Here at BECG the Government’s new enthusiasm for capital spending also provides an opportunity. Local Authorities that are ambitious for their areas will need to get the message out to residents and stakeholders about their plans. To do this, experienced, sector-specialist support could arguably enhance the work of an in-house comms team, if indeed the Local Council still has one.
You would expect such investment in improving towns and villages to be welcomed. Though planning applications, no matter how innocuous they may appear at first, can quickly become contentious if communities do not feel involved or informed, as borne out earlier this week in Wigan. Through targeted engagement and supporter mobilisation (often objectors can be the most vocal despite not being the most representative) enthusiasm for investment can be vocalised.
When the Prime Minister stepped down from the podium in Coventry last Thursday hopes of a fleshed-out plan adding the detail many crave into the ambitions he set out at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry in 2019 had been dashed. Though to suggest that there is nothing at all behind the mantra of levelling up would not be entirely accurate.
BECG is an award-winning sector-specialist communications consultancy for the built environment. To discuss how you can make the most of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda contact Kevin Whitmore.