Levelling up lies

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By Molly Pollock

Boris Johnson is desperate to trumpet at every opportunity how well the UK is performing, its economy growing faster than other G7 nations. Everything is world-beating. We’re at the forefront of all that’s positive. Scotland need’s the broad shoulders of Westminster to flourish, to exist. Yet under these same broad shoulders Scotland, like other areas of the UK, lopes along on crumbs while London and the south-east feast.

Research by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research suggests that in 2022-23 1.5 million households across the UK face food and energy bills greater than their disposable income, with the highest incidence in London and Scotland. 11.3 million lower income households are set to lose around £4.2bn more than median households. To Johnson’s government some people matter much less than others.

Despite all Johnson’s bombast about his determination to address the economic dominance of London and the south-east through a programme of levelling up, not all is as it seems. According to an article in Byline Times, Johnson plans to spend less on English regional development than either Theresa May or David Cameron when in government, with much of Johnson’s levelling up agenda spiked by a lack of funding.

Included in this week’s Queen’s Speech was a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, centred on local planning and the devolution of powers including giving residents more say over such crucial matters as changing street names and enabling them to benefit from al fresco dining. More powers are to be devolved to local and regional authorities with all of England enjoying a super-duper, all-singing-and-dancing, as near to federalism as possible devolution deal. We in Sccotland have, of course, heard all that guff before. Initially 10 new devolution deals in England will be granted with additional powers to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

But despite all the hype in the media about levelling up, and Johnson being allowed to crow about it ad infinitum, in reality levelling up has been if not an enormous failure then certainly a very damp squib. Foodbank use has surged, and between 2019 and 2021 the UK has suffered a very significant fall in life expectancy, mainly in poorer areas.

The Trussell Trust

However the Trussell Trust has revealed that Scotland is the only part of the UK to see a ‘significant’ drop in people requiring emergency food bank parcels. This is being attributed to the Scottish Government’s £10 [now raised to £20] per week payment to low-income families. The benefit, unique to Scotland, has the ability to benefit around 133,000 children in low-income families.

We are now faced with a cost of living crisis with people already starving, unable to feed themselves and their families and with no alternative but to stop using gas and electricity. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimates an additional 250,000 households will be in extreme poverty next year, with the total reaching 1.2 million.

An analysis by Bloomberg NewsBoris Johnson’s Flagship Plan to Fix Britain Is in Trouble: The prime minister promised to supercharge Britain by reducing regional inequalities. Two years on, an exclusive analysis by Bloomberg News shows things are going backwards – shows that far from the UK benefitting under Johnson’s levelling up strategy most areas are more likely to be stalling or falling further behind than they were in 2019. Far from less well off areas benefitting from Johnson’s flagship scheme, the gaps between wealth and opportunity have continued to grow. The Bloomberg analysis concluded that “On a wide variety of metrics, most of the country is being left behind.”

Bloomberg has analysed 12 socio-economic metrics across all 650 constituencies in the UK and compared their performance to London & the South East since 2019.

The Bloomberg team interviewed a range of MPs, civil servants, and public policy experts who believed levelling up has stalled because of the pandemic; distractions such as partygate, Brexit, and the war in Ukraine; lack of funding; and a lack of commitment in Whitehall (and not mentioned but perhaps also a lack of commitment in Number 11 where Rishi Sunak is exceedingly reluctant to open the Treasury purse strings).

Whatever the causes, and despite the ongoing promises, in 2019 Bloomberg estimates 598 constituencies were behind London and the South East in at least 6 of the 12 metrics analysed. Now 87% of these constituencies are more likely to be falling behind or in the same situation. Only 10% are levelling up overall. A fairly damning finding, but given the empty promises of the Johnson government, perhaps not really surprising.

Bloomberg

The infographic showing overall levelling up indicates that the Midlands and East of England are falling behind while the North of England and Northern Ireland are levelling up the most. The inclusion of Northern Ireland in those doing best is hardly surprising as the Northern Ireland economy is now an estimated 3% bigger than it was before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency saying that non-barrier trade with the EU has been of benefit to Northern Ireland.

Bloomberg

Public spending per head is higher across the board compared to 2019, due to Covid-19 state aid, but unsurprisingly public spending has increased relatively more in the capital than everywhere else. Anyone in Scotland surprised?

Bloomberg

Bloomberg should be congratulated for collating this information but reprimanded for their malformed and distorted representation of Scotland. Scotland is not that size.

Accessing the Bloomberg website gives access to all their infographics for the metrics covered. Hover your mouse cursor over your area and you can get the statistics for your own constituency. It would appear that Scotland does best in areas where the Scottish government has input eg in inward investment and in broadband which although reserved to Westminster the Scottish Government has invested in as heavily as possible so that communities would not be disadvantaged.

So a very mixed picture. Promises of levelling up but little sign of it in most places.

Scotland can do much better than this with independence.