New research from the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) has outlined a five-step plan for local communities to achieve levelling up.
Identifying four different kinds of communities in need of investment– coastal, post-industrial, urban and rural – the five-step plan outlines a practical roadmap for government at all levels to turn political ambitions around levelling up into tangible reality, delivering improvements for left-behind local communities, wherever they are based.
Levelling Up: Five Principles for Success is launched at a time when the UK government is under increasing pressure to realise its levelling up ambitions. Ministers have received increasing criticism for a perceived disconnect between rhetoric and reality, including most recently with the Integrated Rail Plan for the north and Midlands, which many observers described as a lost opportunity to level up the country.
Commenting on the report’s launch, director of policy at ACE Matthew Farrow said: “Politicians of all persuasions will want to deliver projects for the benefit of voters in towns, cities and rural communities. This report provides a clear framework relevant to any local authority looking to deliver strategic projects which increase prosperity, opportunity and quality of life.”
The report’s five-step plan presents a strategy and approach outlining the need for local leaders to take action in a number of areas.
Build a solid evidence base: Levelling up needs to be based on a robust analysis of local context. This analysis should include an area’s existing buildings and infrastructure, its geography the planned infrastructure investment pipeline for the area, local skill sets, demographic data, and the results of deep engagement with stakeholders and the local community about their needs.
Work out how you’ll become famous: A place needs a strong and achievable proposition to put to its residents, commuters, visitors, and investors.
Build on what you’ve got: A place’s proposition doesn’t need to be completely original and not every place can be world class in everything. What is important is a proposition’s fit to the area’s particular conditions opportunities and personality. Leverage these advantages and avoid chasing funding pots or trends for their own sake.
Organise delivery around people’s needs: Levelling up demands joined-up solutions to broad strategic challenges. Public and private sector alike need to organise around people and their needs and not their own technical disciplines or internal structures. Delivery plans should be based on bundles of interventions that join the dots between transport, energy, environment, education, employment, and everything else important to a place.
Ask the hard questions about your capacity and capability: Assess if local public sector institutions and their private sector partners have the capacity and skills to develop and execute your strategy – you may need to amend plans or find new sources of support.
The report says that these five steps would ensure that potential projects are affordable and strategic, delivering real improvements for those in left-behind communities, while helping to avoid expensive ‘white elephants’ and ineffective or inappropriate developments.
Through the report’s analysis of previously published research and approaches abroad, it identifies a capacity gap in the UK with spending on local authority planning, policy and strategy down 69% to £247m in the ten years prior to 2018. To help overcome this institutional deficiency, it argues for greater collaboration – between local authorities and regional government, as well as with the engineering and consultancy sector – and for a broader and more holistic approach to the distribution of funding.
With case studies of innovative projects in transport, housing, and urban redevelopment, the report shares how ACE members are the natural delivery partners of choice in this space, currently delivering inspirational and impactful levelling up projects in Swindon, Nottinghamshire, Swansea, Doncaster and Liverpool.
Peter Hogg, chair of ACE’s places group and levelling-up taskforce and the UK cities director at Arcadis, said: “While our research demonstrates a disconnect between political ambitions and delivery on the ground, our industry is ideally placed to be the delivery partners of choice, helping to plug gaps in local authority provision.
“Our five point plan will help government at all levels ensure projects and programmes deliver tangible and real-life improvements, turning the noise around levelling up into impactful deliverables, improving opportunities for work, education and economic growth. All vital goals as we aim to build back better post-pandemic across the UK.”