West Berkshire and the Levelling Up agenda
Council Leader Lynne Doherty reflects on the Levelling Up agenda, and what it means for West Berkshire.
A lot has been said in recent weeks about Levelling Up with the publications of the Government's long awaited Levelling Up White Paper. A White Paper is a Government's intention of a new policy, so it is important we consider the impact this may have on us all. I have spent some time reading all 305 pages and trying to understand what it will actually mean to us here in West Berkshire.
Firstly, as someone who lives in an affluent part of the county which would not in the first instance be regarded as an area that actually needs levelling up, I do welcome this paper. Inequalities and disparities in outcomes should not be defined by where you live in the country and the whole principle of tackling this issue is something that I applaud.
On reading the paper, it is a clear blueprint, with 12 stated missions to assist with levelling up that I think anyone would find difficulty in arguing against. The desire to tackle regional inequalities is the right thing to do.
This will however mean a focus on areas away from West Berkshire and, while the paper does recognise that, it remains vital that we preserve and enhance economic, academic and cultural success stories of those most productive counties. Yes West Berkshire clearly is one of those as demonstrated in all of the extensive data provided, but it does leave me thinking how will we be able to support those living in deprivation in our district?
The 12 missions that I have already mentioned are mainly generic to the entire country, for example pay, employment and productivity all to rise, expected education standards to be met and the number of first time buyers to increase. However, the allocation of specific funds to support these are currently focused on those areas most in need, and there is little detail of future funding.
This is where I become most torn, as someone living in the South East, the only other area outside of London to be a net contributor in terms of Gross Domestic Product (basically, income), I know that our region is vital to the whole Levelling Up agenda. We, as a Council, keep very little of the business rates collected in the district, around 75% of what is collected here in West Berkshire is reallocated to other parts of the country to enable the type of support being identified in the white paper.
Therefore, it will be imperative over the coming months to ensure that central Government recognise the need to not only maintain investment into Berkshire, but also to increase it, to ensure that the economic clusters that are already well formed and functioning in our area remain buoyant and able to contribute to the overall agenda.
I know that we too have residents in need of the very support being proposed by the White Paper. We will need to bid for available funds and make the case that disparities can be 'hyper - local'. I can assure you that West Berkshire Council will continue to do this through all of the avenues that we have available to us.
Within the paper there is a new "devolution" framework with options open to us as a Council to empower more local decision making by operating in a larger geographic area. We will be considering all options, but I think that in itself will be something I will come back to in a future blog.
In summary, I think the Levelling Up White Paper is a good strategy for the country, a positive start, the right vision. The 'missions' within it are all based on areas we would welcome right here in West Berkshire. I am cautious that we need to ensure continued investment into successful areas, such as ours, if the aims and vision are to be actually delivered.