The Levelling Up White Paper set out the strategy to achieve this at a national scale. It introduces broad missions to galvanise action until 2030, commitments to devolve power to local leaders, and policies to kickstart a regeneration revolution. But action also needs to come from below.
Our new research programme – Levelling Up in Practice – will give local policy makers the tools to do exactly this.
Based on quantitative data and qualitative evidence from conversations with local political leaders, businesses, educationalists, community organisers and members of the public, it will develop a playbook to guide policy makers in levelling up the social fabric and economies of the UK’s left-behind places.
The final playbook will be published in Summer 2022 and will provide local leaders with several flexible plans that they can use to improve the economic and social prospects of their areas.
Before the final playbook is published in the summer, we will publish several interim reports based on our visits across the UK. These will serve to prompt discussion and unearth common themes, and improve the robustness of the playbook once the research has been concluded.
The first interim report we are covering is based on our findings from Oldham in Greater Manchester. In this report we set out the main challenges facing the town and four initial recommendations for how it can level up.
Oldham’s economy lags behind much of the rest of the UK – its GVA per head is almost £6,000 lower than the national average and people there have around £4,000 less disposable income than elsewhere. Onward’s interim report calls on local leaders to grow the private sector, particularly in areas such as advanced manufacturing or logistics. At the same time, they should support existing businesses by boosting Oldham’s town centre footfall.
Business and political leaders highlighted that young people lack basic skills in Oldham: the number of pupils in the town attending underperforming schools exceeds the national average at both primary and secondary level. To tackle this, Onward proposes that local leaders improve school quality and facilitate better links between local employers and the college. Public sector organisations in the town should also recruit more apprentices.
Focus groups reveal that Oldham suffers from a lack of local pride, community safety and cohesion. This is backed up by Onward’s Social Fabric Index which finds that the town has a weak social fabric compared to the UK average. To tackle these problems Onward proposes that the relevant authorities bring local assets such as clubs and vacant shops into community ownership, bolster youth services and hire more PCSOs.
Satisfaction with the council and other authorities is low in Oldham. Local leaders should find ways to increase these through better involving civil society with their decision making and expanding parish councils in the borough.
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