The Levelling Up White Paper set out the strategy to rebalance the economy at a national scale. It created broad missions to spur policy action until 2030, commitments to devolve power to local leaders, and plans to kickstart a regeneration revolution. But action also needs to come from below.
Our research programme Levelling Up in Practice gives 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.
Before the final playbook is published later this autumn, 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.
Our first interim report in the Levelling Up in Practice programme looked at Oldham in Greater Manchester and our second looked at South Tyneside in the North East. This research note covers our analysis, findings, and initial recommendations to level up Walsall in the West Midlands. These are based on focus groups conducted and meetings with local businesses, local leaders, and community organisations.
We found that the scale of Walsall’s economic and social divides means that a single one size fits all plan to level up the area will not be enough. This interim report outlines some of the key challenges facing Walsall, including:
The report sets out four key areas that policymakers in Walsall should focus on to level up the area:
First, local leaders could link up higher-productivity businesses to workers, colleges and capital. Second, they need to encourage more high-productivity businesses to locate in Walsall. One way to do this would be to adopt the successful ‘makerspace’ model – co-working spaces for manufacturing firms.
The council could work closely with community organisations and faith groups to help people gain the confidence and basic skills they need to prepare them for work. In addition, the council should improve poorly performing schools – particularly in the west of the borough – and make it easier for local residents to access courses at nearby technology colleagues.
Onward’s research shows that the state of the town centre is central to how people feel about their area. The council should press on with its Towns Fund bid and maximise its potential. It should also make use of local heritage sites by taking inspiration from the work done in Coventry by the Coventry Heritage Trust.
People in Walsall feel that they lack a voice. To counter this the council should encourage the establishment of parish or town councils in priority wards and neighbourhoods and set up a Business Improvement District. Together these would give people and businesses more say over the future of their area.
“Walsall North was one of the earliest parts of the Red Wall to crumble when it returned a Conservative MP in 2017 for the first time in a generation. Voters here want to see progress on levelling up, which to them means more good jobs, vibrant town centres, and safer streets.
“The scale of the challenge in Walsall should be at the centre of this Government’s economic and political agenda. Areas like Walsall will need more than tax cuts and deregulation to unlock opportunity and rebuild local pride.”
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