Apologies but Owl may have to lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the day

Owl attempted to read the levelling up white paper

The reviewers are right: it lays out the problems in a number of academic style essays but offers no cures.

On page 96 we get to the nub of the issue:

Size the Prize 

Subject to some assumptions, it is possible to “size the prize” by unlocking places from their low-growth equilibrium. For example, consider if the performance of the bottom-performing quarter of places by productivity were to be “levelled up” to the median. The boost to productivity would be equivalent to a pay rise of around £2,300 for individuals in the poorest areas. For the UK economy as a whole, this would deliver a GVA gain of around £50bn per year. 

So we are going to invest in……………..? Owl tried following up the 192 references to “productivity” only to find generalities about improving this and improving that.

(We have been here before with our Local Enterprise Partnership, HotSW, haven’t we?)

Next Owl turned to Chapter 2 to try to learn something about plans for devolution:

Chapter 2 Systems Reform (yes this the place to look)

2.1 Introduction 

“Chapter 1 described the scale and source of the UK’s geographic disparities and the role public policy can play in counteracting them. It showed that there is no simple or singular solution to reversing spatial disparities because local economies are complex systems, shaped by cumulative and interconnected economic, social and institutional factors. Successful policy programmes need to act on the six capitals [See below] which underpin the prosperity of places to reverse these forces. 

This chapter starts by explaining why past attempts to promote spatial convergence in the UK have been unsuccessful and what lessons can be taken from that experience. In sum, decision-makers nationally and locally have typically lacked the information, incentives and institutions to act in ways which support the closure of spatial disparities in a signifcant and sustained way. 

Drawing on these lessons from the past, this chapter recommends wholesale changes to the information, incentives and institutions which underpin spatial decision-making in the UK. This transformation in the system of government, and in the governance of spatial policy, is supported by five pillars:

 a. a mission-oriented approach to setting policy;

 b. a reorientation of central government decision-making;

 c. greater empowerment of local government decision-making; 

d. a revolution in data and transparency at the subnational level; and

e. enhanced transparency and accountability of this new regime. 

These five pillars are mutually reinforcing. Each performs a necessary role in the new policy regime. But it is their combined effect that is necessary to reshape decision-making and deliver the long-term objectives of levelling up, as part of a new system of governance. That is why the focus of this chapter is the improved information, incentives and institutions underlying the new policy regime. “

By this time Owl had forgotten about the Six Capitals and had to return to the Executive Summary:

The Six Capitals 

Levelling up requires a focused, long-term plan of action and a clear framework to identify and act upon the drivers of spatial disparity. Evidence from a range of disciplines tells us these drivers can be encapsulated in six “capitals”. 

• Physical capital – infrastructure, machines and housing.

• Human capital – the skills, health and experience of the workforce. 

• Intangible capital – innovation, ideas and patents.

• Financial capital – resources supporting the financing of companies. 

• Social capital – the strength of communities, relationships and trust. 

• Institutional capital – local leadership, capacity and capability.  

County Deal

Apparently Devon will be one of the first invited to negotiate a “County Deal”.

Now where does the paper explain what such a deal might include and what the conditions might be?…………..

At this point Owl gave up, defeated.

3 thoughts on “Apologies but Owl may have to lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the day

  1. If you’re a politician, and you’ve got an idea, or a slogan that looks as if it might be an idea, and then someone asks you to implement that idea as an ongoing practical reality, the first thing you will need is a White Paper, to show how much thought has gone into your idea and to explain that in practise it’s more difficult than anyone could have imagined and that, excellent though the idea is, the shedloads of money that it would need to approximate the vision that was promised, means that you have to ramp up the numbers of bullet points and circumlocutions to prodigious levels to explain just how very much you have thought about it, so you can conclude that, as long as you can restructure national and local government top down and bottom up, review the electoral system, overhaul economic and social traditions, add in some blue sky thinking, some quantum statistics, a few nibbles and a glass of prosecco, it will all be brilliant! With any luck everyone will think you’ve done a cracking job.

    Thank you for trying Owl


  2. The Levelling Up policy has never been intended to be one that is delivered – why would a party hell-bent in widening the wealth gap be genuinely interested in narrowing it – because this is what Levelling Up would really mean.

    So if you are promoting something that you have no intention of delivering upon, it is only natural that you define it in the most obscure, opaque and un measurable way in order that you can eliminate any chance that you might later be held accountable for this non-delivery.


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