Onward Logo Colour White 2021

LEVELLING UP

Levelling Up in Practice: Walsall Interim Report

No single one-size-fits all approach will be enough to level up Walsall.
Adam Hawksbee, Francesca Fraser, Will Tanner
October 17, 2022
Levelling Up in Practice: Walsall Interim Report

Onward’s third interim report for the Levelling Up in Practice programme examines the challenges and opportunities facing Walsall. 

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.

Interim evidence and lessons from Walsall

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:

  • A weak local economy: Worker productivity is almost 30% below the national average, and neighbourhoods like Darlaston, Willenhall, and Brownhills are in the bottom 20% nationally for economic output (GVA). This is driven by a concentration of low productivity sectors: almost 1 in 3 workers are in either logistics or retail in Walsall compared to 1 in 5 nationally. 
  • Social challenges: Parts of Walsall are deeply disadvantaged. In Walsall North, 1 in 3 adults are economically inactive compared to 1 in 5 nationally. Almost half of women in Walsall South constituency, which has a large South Asian population, are economically inactive – twice the national average. Half as many people in Walsall have a degree-level qualification as the UK average. And Walsall has some of the highest levels of welfare dependency in the country. 
  • A lack of local pride: Onward’s Social Fabric Index – a measure of the strength of civil society across the country – ranks Walsall well below the UK and the West Midlands averages. Residents told us the town centre was “depressing”, a “hellhole”, “run down” and “rough”. They also raised concerns about crime, and police data shows that public order offences have more than doubled in the area in the last ten years.

The report sets out four key areas that policymakers in Walsall should focus on to level up the area:

Strengthen the economy 

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. 

Improve public services

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.  

Restore a sense of community

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.

Empower local leaders

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.

Commenting on the research, Onward’s Deputy Director and Head of Levelling Up Adam Hawksbee said:

“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.”

Nov 30
9:00-
10:00
Last Few

Our Work

If you value the work we do support us through a donation.

Your contribution will help fund cutting edge research to make the country a better place.

Donate

Support Onward with a donation

£
Social Fabric
Why we need to fix Britain’s broken childcare system.
Science Programme
How to reform R&D Tax Credits to incentivise innovation when public finances are stretched.
Levelling Up
Why we need a new approach to school enrichment
Future Politics
The Conservatives’ failed experiment with Trussonomics presents an opportunity for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to set out a renewed economic philosophy based on longstanding Conservative principles, rather than a half-baked version of Thatcherism.
Future Politics
… and how they can win again.
Levelling Up
Tax cuts are necessary to make the UK economy more competitive, but the Government will also need to deliver better public services and stronger communities to really level up the UK.
Social Fabric
Why we need to fix Britain’s broken childcare system.
Science Programme
How to reform R&D Tax Credits to incentivise innovation when public finances are stretched.
Levelling Up
Why we need a new approach to school enrichment
Future Politics
The Conservatives’ failed experiment with Trussonomics presents an opportunity for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to set out a renewed economic philosophy based on longstanding Conservative principles, rather than a half-baked version of Thatcherism.
Future Politics
… and how they can win again.
Levelling Up
No single one-size-fits all approach will be enough to level up Walsall.