The long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper was finally published last month. BECG has already identified its five key takeaways and has posed the question of whether it has come too late to make any discernible impact.
But what impact, if any, will it have on the city of Birmingham?
Birmingham is the UK’s second city. The youngest city in Europe, almost 40 per cent of the population are under 25. Birmingham is also one of the most deprived core cities in England and among the least prosperous 10 per cent of local authorities in the UK. Birmingham’s under-performance relative to other cities is not a recent phenomenon.
Birmingham politicians know this. They know what needs to fixing and how to fix it. That’s why levelling up must be driven by local government and not Whitehall.
Andy Street recently spoke at BECG’s webinar on levelling up, highlighting the impact it could have on new development and infrastructure. The Mayor praised the White Paper as providing the platform to get the Midlands back on track. He pointed out that the region had the fastest growing economy before the pandemic, and this new agenda can help drive the West Midlands forward again. The Mayor highlighted his critical priorities for the region; regeneration, jobs, and inward investment.
So, what can the Levelling Up White Paper do for Birmingham?
With Birmingham set to host the Commonwealth Games this year and HS2 delivering an economic boost for the city, Councillor Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council (BCC), touted this year as the ‘start of a Golden Decade of Opportunity‘ for Birmingham.
BCC published its ‘Prosperity and Opportunity for All: Birmingham’s Levelling Up Strategy‘ in November 2021.
The council believe levelling up is about ‘people-powered change’. Focusing on their key ambitions, the council outlined five themes centred around inclusive, sustainable growth, people and places, empowering communications, improving public services, and addressing structural inequalities.
The first round of levelling up funding provides an investment of £196m for 11 projects in the region. Three Birmingham based projects have been allocated £52.6m. The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is also receiving £400m to continue to back SMEs.
Birmingham will have accelerated 5G rollout via funding to the West Midlands 5G Testbed, funding to create a centre for research and innovation and access to the ‘Strength in places’ fund to enable growth in net-zero industries.
What the future holds
While all funding is welcome, the White Paper does not go far enough for the UK’s second city. The £52.6m is a drop in the ocean of the funding Birmingham needs to level up. However, the Council and WMCA are determined to build upon this and have set out a clear ask of Government and partners.
There are significant opportunities for levelling up across Birmingham. The city’s billions of pounds of private sector investment, alongside a council committed to economic growth, has created a platform for change. When coupled with the Commonwealth Games and HS2, there is strong reason to believe this is the start of Birmingham’s golden decade of opportunity.
But only if it’s led by Brummies’ from the grassroots and local institutions in the city. This isn’t an agenda that can be dictated from Whitehall. The White Paper helps to define ambition. It is local Brummies’ who must dictate and drive forward the plan at a local level.
If you would like to discuss the impact of the Levelling Up White Paper further, please contact Alexander Magee.