The Government has published its Levelling Up White Paper, which sets out how it will spread opportunity more equally across the UK.
The paper includes 12 “missions” to achieve by 2030 on vital topics such as health, schools, crime and local leadership.
Central to this is a huge ramp-up of devolution, with more areas – including county council areas like Devon and Cornwall – able to directly elect mayors or ‘governors’.
Responding to the publication of the White Paper, Devon & Plymouth Chamber CEO, Stuart Elford, commented: “We welcome the levelling up announcement and the general ambitions it sets out, but it is not clear what investment will come our way.
“The paper says that Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are one of nine areas that can begin negotiations to roll out County deals, but it is not clear if they would have to elect a County mayor and what investment would be unlocked as a result. Some clarity about the benefits of doing so is needed.
“Whatever the outcome, we call upon the Local Authorities to work together to ensure that we maximise the opportunities presented.”
Speaking on behalf of British Chambers of Commerce South West, Stuart said: “The White Paper doesn’t mention the Great South West and I fear we will once again be overlooked and unable to realise our regional potential due to this lack of cohesion.
“The region has incredible strengths, particularly around the blue/green economy, and we had hoped that would be recognised by Government so we could leverage investment and turbocharge the economy in a way that provides equality of opportunity for all.
“County deals may bring some advantages, although even that is not clear, but as a region there is still no recognition of our strengths and potential.”
Shevaun Havilland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “This is an important first step in putting local economic prosperity at the heart of Government policy.
“This step though, must now rapidly become leaps and bounds. Business communities are keen to see the ambitions of this agenda turn into delivery in the very near future, improving prosperity around the country.
“We are pleased to see policies the Chamber Network has long campaigned for – such as UK-wide infrastructure reaching London standards, widespread 5G internet, local skills planning and devolution of funding decisions to the local level – take real significance and be enshrined in law.
“What must now follow is the detail on the role local business leaders will have in oversight and delivery of the missions laid out. Where necessary, additional funding must be made available in order to drive change.
“Government must not forget the role that local businesses play in creating opportunity and prosperity in their communities, and should continue to work with British Chambers of Commerce and others to identify further ways to improve the business environment and enable more firms to grow and thrive.”
“Chamber business communities across England support greater devolution. The centralisation of money and decision making in Whitehall continues to be a brake on cities, towns and counties that are keen to realise their potential. However, businesses only want to see devolution with purpose – not just devolution for its own sake.
“Devolution must be shaped by business knowledge of local and regional needs, and be accountable to local businesses and communities. It is vital that time and energy spent on structural changes results in the acceleration of genuine uplifts to prosperity in our regions and nations.”
On Funding Allocation
“Government has heeded our calls to streamline the variety of funding pots and will be taking a more strategic approach to funding.
“Accredited Chambers would like to see local areas receive larger funds to use within a strategic framework and given greater autonomy to use it to address areas of greatest challenge or opportunity in their local communities over the long term.”