Summary and comment for members
Today Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing, launched the new “Levelling Up plan to transform the UK”, to “make opportunity more equal and shift wealth and power to working people and their families”, especially in the midlands and the north. It will “allow overlooked and undervalued communities to take back control of their destiny”.
He emphasised the “need to tackle and reverse the inequality that is limiting so many horizons,” the importance of “turbocharging the potential of every part of the UK”.
“This country won’t achieve its full potential until every individual and community achieves everything of which they are capable. We need to fire up every resource we have.”
Duncan Law of Community Energy England said, “It is a pity that these ambitions to ‘empower local leaders’ and communities have not resulted in any practical help from the government for the thousands of community energy workers and volunteers driving grass-roots climate action and delivering social benefit and climate justice in their communities. We will use all possible opportunities provided by the Levelling Up agenda - but we need sector specific support if we are to 'fire up every resource we have' and harness the full potential of community energy as the Environmental Audit Committee recommended.”
The Secretary of State announced twelve missions for 2030 towards Levelling Up which the government will put into law and report on annually.
They include a 40% increase in Research and Development outside the south-east; improved public transport and digital connectivity; better education performance and hundreds of thousands completing high-quality skills training; reduced health and well-being inequality; increased pride in place, satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community; increased home ownership and better standards in rented homes; reduced homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime; and every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement..
Step one was to back business, he said, cutting red tape, making it easier to secure investment and by creating the right environment on the ground for business. He announced £100m for new innovation accelerators in Glasgow, West Midlands and Greater Manchester. He pledged to reform procurement rules - so that government money is spent on British firms and jobs.
“Economic opportunity spread more equally across the country is at the heart of levelling up. But it’s also about community as well.” He announced twenty new urban regeneration projects starting in Wolverhampton and Sheffield and spreading across the midlands and the north. £1.8bn will be invested in new housing infrastructure turning brownfield land into projects across the country. This will be focused towards the midlands and the north.
There will be a tough focus on decent standards in rented homes. A new £ 1.5 bn Levelling Up home-building fund will give loans to small and medium sized builders to deliver new homes, the vast majority of which will be outside London and the South East.
The imminent housing standard (Future Homes Standard) will set a minimum standard that all rented properties must meet. The government will take action in law on the problem of empty properties and empty shops on the high street.
Promising increased devolution Gove said, “critical to the success of our mission will also be giving communities not just the resources but also the powers necessary to take back control. We will shift more power away from Whitehall to working people. We’ll create new mayors where people want them.” The 9 areas that will be invited first are Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.
There will be a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers - with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.
The Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, Lisa Nandy said, “It’s absurd that we have to go cap in hand to Westminster to do things that we know will work for us.” Interviewed on BBC Radio 4, World at One, she pointed out that the money in the central government funding pots such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund amounted to £5-6bn and that the government had just written off £8bn of spending on PPE to fraudsters or on inappropriate procurement. Labour argue that this does not begin to redress the damage caused by austerity cuts since 2010. Simon Clarke, the First Secretary to the Treasury, argued in the same programme that the Spending Review had allocated £150bn to government departments which will deliver these policy aims.
The Secretary of State talks of 'empowering excellent local leaders' and 'strengthening their hand'. Sadly this only refers to elected local leaders rather than those in the voluntary and community sector and community energy. Unless they are in an area where budgets are devolved, in most cases they will still have to negotiate with their local council to be part of consortium bids to centrally administered growth funds such as the Levelling Up Fund or the Shared Prosperity Fund.
We continue to hope and lobby for support for community energy in the allocations of spending within the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - as an extremely cost effective use of government money, harnessing the passion, expertise and capital of the local community to drive net zero and delivering multiple social and community benefits.
However it will be important for community energy organisations to work with their local authorities to be part of consortium bids to the centrally administered, ‘national growth funds’. We have compiled a list of the funds we know about here and would appreciate feedback on how best to access them. Additionally it will be important to explore opportunities (underlined above) contained in the Levelling Up White Paper including where your local authority has been given more powers or resources. We will endeavour to add the nationally available resources to the Funding database and provide more information about how they can be accessed.
Community energy cares deeply about ‘levelling up’ because it is a matter of social justice. Our fuel poverty work, often funded by previous renewable energy projects, yields high carbon savings and huge social returns on investment and financial returns in bill savings to vulnerable residents. Bristol University made a conservative calculation of a 10:1 social return on investment on energy efficiency work conducted by South East London Community Energy and Energise Sussex Coast. SELCE calculated their clients saved £6 over 2 years for every £1 invested in the scheme. These sorts of returns on investment should be reason enough for government to invest in supporting community energy especially given the energy crisis and the 54% hike in energy bills. We will aim to use the Secretary of State’s worthy words quoted at the top of this piece to help the government see how powerful community energy can in helping them realise their mission.
Link to the White Paper
Watch Michael Gove's announcement and following questions