If we are to unite and level up the UK, our economic recovery from Covid-19 must see investment targeted more fairly and opportunity spread more evenly so that everyone is afforded the chance to realise their full potential.
That starts with recognising that many parts of our country – especially former industrial towns and rural communities – have been consistently overlooked and underserved by successive governments.
We are tackling these regional imbalances head-on with a record, UK-wide wave of investment in skills, jobs and infrastructure.
This is what underpins our Levelling Up Fund, available throughout the four nations. It will invest over £4.8bn into building the next generation of roads, bridges, railway stations and 5G networks to connect communities and businesses faster than ever before.
We are also providing nearly £250m through our Community Renewal Fund to help local areas support communities most in need by piloting new approaches to investment in skills, local businesses and employment.
This builds on the work that is already well under way to reinvigorate places that have been economically hard-hit during the pandemic.
Through our Getting Building Fund, we are creating the green, high-skilled jobs of tomorrow. In Cornwall, the fund is being used to pilot lithium extraction from geothermal waters so that the metals used in batteries powering our electric devices can be produced right here in the UK with a zero-carbon footprint – a real showcase of British innovation ahead of COP26.
In Barrow, where almost one in four adults holds no qualifications, £25m from my department’s Towns Fund is being invested in a Learning Quarter, which will completely transform the local educational offer with a new university campus and skills hub.
In Worcester, support from our Future High Streets Fund is renovating the Scala Theatre and Corn Exchange, bringing these beautiful buildings back into public use to increase footfall.
We want to encourage strong local leadership to truly deliver. We have seen the success of metro mayors like Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley, regenerating the former Redcar steelworks site and creating 18,000 jobs with a new free port acting as an international gateway for trade and commerce in the North East.
He and other metro mayors show what’s possible when our regions have passionate champions banging the drum for them. It’s time to roll out these powers to the rest of the country, using county deals and a more flexible approach to devolution.
This is the new frontier for our levelling-up agenda – empowering local communities to shape the future of their area. A levelling-up white paper will be published later this year, setting out our ambitions for this regional renaissance.
By devolving money and powers to local leaders, investing in skills, addressing educational blackspots and driving regeneration, we are permanently addressing the regional imbalances that have held our country back.
We are ensuring that no one ever has to feel that leaving their hometown is the only way to get on in life. Instead, the opportunities they need to flourish will be right on their doorstep. That is what levelling up is all about – giving communities in every corner of the UK the confidence that our brightest days lie ahead.
This article originally appeared in our issue on Regional Development: Access to Opportunity. Download the full issue here.