Levelling up

by Grace Jacobs
Politics

Are we more uneven than ever?

The Government’s intention to ‘level up’ the country by investing in the infrastructure of the north aims to address the age-old north-south divide. Even before the pandemic hit, the proportion who believed there was equality of opportunity in Britain had fallen sharply over the last decade.

Much of the concern about equality is centred on geography. The Brexit vote of 2016 showed large numbers of people in the north, and away from urban centres felt ignored by Whitehall, and often ‘left behind’. The disparity between regions has been evident for some time, with those in the north the most likely of all regions to agree with the statement: ‘traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me or the areas where we live’, at 66% (compared with 51% of Londoners).1

The public are increasingly sceptical about equality of opportunity

To what extent do you agree or disagree that people have equal opportunities to get ahead?

 

 

% agree

Source
Deloitte LLP for State of the State 2019

Base
c.1,360 GB adults, 15+, 26 July – 17 August 2019

Urban transportation in Manchester

A crucial element of the Conservative party’s winning 2019 General Election manifesto was to share prosperity and opportunities more equally across the UK and to boost economic performance beyond the capital. Many traditionally Labour areas in the north voted to back Boris Johnson on precisely this promise.

Those in the north are considerably more likely to disagree on the fairness of infrastructure investment. Over half (56%) of northerners feel the north gets less than its fair share of investment, compared to a quarter (26%) of Londoners.2 There is also considerably less optimism, with only 24% of northerners expecting public transport in their area to get better over the next few years, compared to 40% of Londoners.3

Ultimately, the north needs the investment that the current Government has promised if it wants to address these disparities and make those in the north more optimistic about their future, and business leaders tend to agree.

In our latest Captains of Industry survey, which speaks to business leaders from the top 500 companies in Britain, nine in 10 (92%) leaders consider the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ important in achieving a strong British economy.4

The majority of Captains think the Northern Powerhouse will be important in achieving a strong British economy

How important, if at all, will the Northern Powerhouse be in achieving a strong British economy?

 

 

% importance

Source
Ipsos MORI Captains of Industry 2020

Base
British Captains of Industry (102); Interviewed Feb – July 2020

Did you
know?

%

of Britons say they are very or fairly happy, putting them among the happiest countries in the world

Eight in 10 Captains of Industry feel that Government investment should focus on regions such as the north of England to grow those areas and reduce regional inequalities5 and 63% disagree that Government investment should focus on London.6 Captains see the north as offering access to a large (27%) but also a cheaper workforce (27%).

It’s no surprise that the British public support this investment too, with a recent Ipsos MORI poll showing 63% of the UK public think the levelling up agenda will be a good thing.7 Critics feel that plans so far do not go far enough to eradicate regional inequality. Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said recently: “England needs to decide if it wants devolution in reality, because otherwise […] levelling up will be a slogan rather than a thing that happens.”8 The public seem to agree: two-thirds (67%) support decision-making powers being given to local and regional government – although the public resist giving local government any more tax raising powers or fiscal autonomy.9

There’s clear evidence that the levelling up agenda is popular amongst the public and business alike, although as with so many things – including Brexit – the public are sceptical about Government’s ability to undo the product of decades of letting investment follow the market south. Some 74% say it is unlikely Government will actually carry out the levelling up agenda.10

Failing to follow through threatens the Conservative electoral alliance between social conservatives in Red Wall seats, and the Conservatives of Surrey and Wiltshire – if the Red Wall voters who lent their votes to the Government in places like Bury decide nothing is getting better, once Brexit is finally done, will they still support the Government in 2024?

It’s no surprise that the British public support  investment in the north

Grace Jacobs

Grace Jacobs

Senior Research Executive

References

  1. Unbound Immigration Survey, Fieldwork dates: 17 December 2018 – 7 January 2019, n = 2520
  2. Deloitte LLP for State of the State 2019. 1,390 UK adults aged 15+ interviewed July – August 2019
  3. Deloitte LLP for State of the State 2019. 1,390 UK adults aged 15+ interviewed July – August 2019
  4. Ipsos Captains of Industry survey. Interviews were conducted between February – July 2020 with participants from the top 500 companies by turnover and the top 100 by capital employed in the UK
  5. Ipsos Captains of Industry survey. Sample size for London Captains is small, at n=43. February to July 2020
  6. Ipsos Captains of Industry survey. Sample size for London Captains is small, at n=43. February to July 2020
  7. Ipsos MORI online poll of UK public aged 16+, 29 Oct – 4 Nov 2020, n=844
  8. www.labourlist.org/2020/10/westminster-bubble-regional-mayors-criticise-london-centric-government/
  9. www.lgcplus.com/politics/ben-page-sorry-guys-localism-does-not-excite-people-20-05-2019/
  10. Deloitte LLP for State of the State 2019. 1,390 UK adults aged 15+ interviewed July – August 2019