Boris Johnson’s Flagship Plan to Fix Britain Is in Trouble

The prime minister promised to supercharge Britain by reducing regional inequalities. Two years on, an exclusive analysis by Bloomberg News shows things are going backwards.

Joe Mayes, Andre Tartar, Demetrios Pogkas (Extract)

In 2019, Boris Johnson led the Conservative Party to a resounding general election win, pledging to revive large parts of the UK left behind during the era of globalization that made London one of the world’s richest cities.

Johnson’s rise was driven by his successful campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union. The so-called “levelling up” agenda was designed to turn that into tangible benefits by 2030, especially for the working class Brexit voters who abandoned the opposition Labour party to hand Johnson his party’s biggest majority since the 1980s.

More than two years on, in a period dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, most of the places that lagged behind London and the South East of England when Johnson came to power have seen little sign of better times. In fact, as a new Bloomberg News analysis shows, they’re more likely to be falling further behind.

To understand how levelling up is progressing, we analyzed 12 key socioeconomic metrics across every one of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies to measure whether the gap has changed—one way or another—since 2019.

The data we used are based on priorities outlined in the government’s official levelling up policy paper and were compiled in consultation with Bloomberg Economics. Where data at the constituency level was unavailable, we used data for higher-level geographies and matched them to the relevant parliamentary seats.

Our analysis shows that the salary gap is widening in nine out of 10 constituencies, that home affordability is getting worse nearly everywhere, and that public spending per head has fallen behind the capital in every region of England.

Only on a few metrics has the gap narrowed for much of the UK—including life expectancy and the share of people receiving Universal Credit benefits—and in both those cases it’s because the situation in London and the South East has worsened. As a result of Covid-19 the death rate is up and more people are claiming welfare benefits. This is not the kind of levelling up Boris Johnson was looking for…..

(This graphic summary says it all. But note that the “hot spots” in the southwest are not in the peninsula but to the east: in places like Bristol, Bath, Gloucester & Swindon. Each hexagon represents a constituency.)

….The UK Treasury has been reluctant to dedicate large new pots of money to the levelling-up cause, citing the need to repair the public finances post-Covid. The roughly 12 billion pounds of funding announced so far amounts to about 3% of total government departmental spending in the 2019 fiscal year. Haldane argues this shouldn’t be a particularly limiting factor because tilting more of existing government budgets away from London and the South East will spur levelling up alone.

And the public money that has been dedicated to levelling up hasn’t always gone to the areas that need it most. Of the 100 most deprived areas in England, only 38% of councils won at least some of the Levelling Up Fund money they requested, 34% didn’t participate at all and 28% had all their bids rejected, BBC Panorama reported this week…..

There is a lot more to read in the full article, all illustrated by more graphics and an interactive table where you can search results for your own constituency. – Owl