Don’t forget London in the levelling up debate

By Cllr Darren Rodwell | 03 November 2021

The question of London in the levelling-up debate represents a conundrum for those Government officials currently penning that much-anticipated white paper.

Up to this point, there have been very few clues about what place our capital city has in this discussion.

Indeed, for people living outside of London in regions described as ‘left behind’ or ‘deprived’, they might be asking themselves whether London should enter calculations at all.

London is a wealthy megacity and the engine of our nation’s economy.

But - as Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged in his levelling up speech last year - there is still ‘much more to do in London, and there are still huge inequalities.’

When you segment London into sub-regions, a clearer picture emerges of its challenges.

Take East London. The European Union classified ‘Outer London East and North East’ as ‘less developed’ and before our departure from that bloc, it had earmarked £1 billion in structural funding to help it catch up.

East London has more in common with ‘red wall’ north and other de-industrialised areas, with similar challenges around poverty, lack of opportunity, health inequalities and skills, than it does with its near neighbours in central, south, and west London.

As chairman of Local London – a partnership of eight councils in east London – our greatest fear is this part of London will be stripped of resources and effectively ‘levelled down’ in this exercise. Policies and funding measures will be targeted mainly outside the capital at those places traditionally thought of as more needing - but we are equally deserving of help. 

People living in our part of London do not necessarily enjoy the wealth and benefits of our capital city. Various metrics confirm our deprivation and need for support. For example:

  • The Indices of Multiple Deprivation point to this sub region’s incredibly high percentage (20 per cent) of neighbourhoods among the most deprived in the UK.
  • GVA per head for boroughs within Local London is on average the lowest of all the London sub-regional partnerships, as well as the Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and West Midlands combined authorities.
  • 144,000 people - equating to 28% of employees in the Local London area – earn below the London Living Wage and the average hour worked in a Local London borough is worth £38.50 to the national economy, a gap of around £5 with Central London.
  • Local London lags the rest of London in terms of the percentage of the population with no qualifications and, conversely, the percentage of the population working in highly skilled jobs, with the trend pointing towards a widening gap.
  • COVID has made things worse for us – and while the rest of the UK can argue the same point, we’ve felt it hardest. The COVID Triangle of Newham, Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham suffered worst spread due to over-population, high density housing, overcrowding and cultural differences.

Today, we are launching Local London and Levelling Up. This report has been researched and written by Localis, the independent and well-respected think tank. It makes our case for levelling up support and provides a compelling evidence base for it.

Firstly, it picks up the earlier point on geography. A clearer, more accurate and realistic picture of London’s levelling-up needs emerge when it is sub-regionally divided. When London is evaluated as a megacity, it skews reality. We need sub-regional levelling up in London.

While our area is one of massive need, it also has opportunities that could be harnessed by Government with proper support.

Local London has a key strategic location and competitive advantages, including being positioned at the confluence of several nationally important economic corridors, namely the Thames Estuary and the UK Innovation Corridor.

Additionally, London’s growth is moving eastwards – with multiple major developments of varying levels of national significance planned or in train.

To properly capitalise, Local London needs a long-term growth deal to convene and co-ordinate member boroughs and masterplan an ambitious course for this place backed up with consistent Government funding to give private investors, businesses, and other key stakeholders confidence they’re backing winners.

Other recommendations in the report would be catalysed by this long-term strategic thinking. For example:

  • It would encourage more productive and professional industries here by investing in our physical and digital connectivity. Our network of town centres can become professional hubs with the right planning and investment. This would also encourage professional industries to locate and provide better places to work for those who do not need to commute as well as better jobs.
  • It would unleash our human potential by raising skill levels and investing in our workforce so they become attractive to employers and improve their own lives.
  • And unlock other Investment opportunities including development opportunities on brownfield sites and associated infrastructure improvements.

We risk falling even further behind without bold and imaginative thinking as well as funding. 

Cllr Darren Rodwell is chairman of Local London and leader of Barking and Dagenham LBC

Local London and Levelling Up is available here

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