LinkedIn x +44(0)1925 730 484 Search

Newsletter Sign Up

Latest News

Levelling Up: pre-White Paper perspectives from economic development professionals published


Ahead of the publication of the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper, the Institute of Economic Development (IED) is sharing new insight which sets out the views of members on what is required from the UK government’s flagship policy.

Levelling Up: pre-White Paper perspectives from economic development professionals is a collection of thought leadership articles around what could be undertaken in respect of themes such as cities, towns, coastal settlements, community-led levelling up, widening opportunity and social capital, and structures. It then arrives at a series of conclusions drawn mostly from local authority members writing in a personal capacity.

IED Executive Director Nigel Wilcock, who led the development of the paper, said it was not an “attempt to prioritise the potential solutions” around Levelling Up. Instead, its main purpose was to collate and share a “huge body of expertise often based on the lessons learned from the past – both in the UK and more widely” – from a cross-section of its membership.

“It is our intention that each short chapter may offer something relevant to members (and beyond) and will stimulate further debate and thinking,” he explained. “These have tended to address themes from a slightly more spatial perspective than is expected in the White Paper, and of course once that White Paper has been published and considered, the IED will be responding more formally to the consultation. There are some commonalties within chapters but, remarkably, very few contradictory views.”

Levelling Up: pre-White Paper perspectives from economic development professionals goes on to highlight a number of “recurring themes”:

• Levelling Up and economic development is about people and communities, yet they are frequently left out of the narrative. Community confidence, aspiration, skills and opportunity need to be at the centre of everything that is considered.
• Trickle-down economics has not worked. Economic growth in the UK over the recent past has generally delivered benefits for a few whilst barely touching many. Against a backdrop of the Levelling Up agenda, much of the work undertaken can therefore be considered to have failed.
• The failure of the various initiatives is partly because the approach was never designed to address inequalities – but also partly because the challenges relating to Levelling Up involve multiple issues covered by several different government departments and organisations. There is a need for far more cross-initiative working.
• Attempting to work cross-departmentally within government is nirvana – often desired and seldom achieved. Considering interlocking issues at a local level is, however, more achievable and suggests that devolution should be deepened and accelerated.
• The current approach to devolution is flawed – with local actors now responsible for administering the same Westminster funds with the same rules as before it is unsurprising that the outcomes achieved remain the same. 
• Devolution can better align local economic development with local needs and local governance. Such a model can address policy silos and should be aligned with the requirement to make economic development a statutory function.
• Ensuring that economic development is a statutory function can then make certain that the delivery of economic development initiatives takes place against the backdrop of greater certainty with a focus on the long term. 
• There is no need for disheartenment from some of the initiatives failing – failure is a mechanism for refinement, but this is not recognised sufficiently within public sector approaches.

Nigel concluded: “Economic development has long been considered as a function that needs to address areas of market failure – it is this mantra that has shaped the profession. However, how might the profession be shaped for the decade ahead if we look down the telescope from the other end? Perhaps there are elements of economic development that would be shaped more effectively if they were considered outside of the market? Should we be completing gymnastics on a pin head to demonstrate the value for money of interventions to improve public realm; better align education and training with the economy; or address the most intractable problems in communities? Alternatively, in a world where Levelling Up is the new objective, should the better local statutory provision of economic development be a given?”

Contributors to Levelling Up: pre-White Paper perspectives from economic development professionals include economic development professionals based at Derby City Council, Harrogate Borough Council, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership and in Dumfries, South-West Scotland.

To download the document please click on the link at the bottom of this page under the DOWNLOADS section.


Contact: Phil Smith, Institute of Economic Development PR consultant, on 01778 218180 / 07866 436159 /

The Institute of Economic Development (IED) is the UK’s leading independent professional body representing economic development and regeneration practitioners. Established nearly 40 years ago, the IED's key objective is to represent the interests of economic development practitioners and ensure their views are widely expressed and noted. The IED is committed to demonstrating the value of economic development work for local and regional communities; the pursuit of best practice in economic development and the attainment of the highest standards of professional conduct and competence.