In no Levelling Up area do residents tend to think the local area has improved in recent years

“ final ingredient, the most important factor in levelling up, the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce – the ketchup of catch-up and that is leadership and this brings me to the crux of the argument- this country is not only one of the most imbalanced in the developed world, it is also one of the most centralised…..” Boris Johnson just eighteen months ago (July 2021).

Has there been a benefit from the first round of Levelling Up funding to local public pride and optimism? Our latest MRP-driven evidence suggests not

Patrick English, Jemma Conner, Lottie Thornton, Matthew Smith

As the government today announces another round of Levelling Up funding, YouGov MRP analysis reveals that many people in the target areas of the first funding round are more likely to think their local area has declined than improved in recent years, and many believe that their community is the kind of place that “people are trying to get away from”.

After collecting over 100,000 survey responses between August and October last year, we then used a statistical technique named Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) to estimate the proportions of each local authority in England, Scotland, and Wales holding each respective opinion.

Our analysis suggests that there is little optimism or positivity about local areas among the very people the Levelling Up fund was designed to benefit.

In only four local authorities do people tend to think that their local areas have generally improved in recent years. While in 215 local authorities the most common opinion is that the local area has stayed about the same, in as many as 142 council areas people tend to believe the local area has generally declined.

As many as seven in ten of the top priority Levelling Up funding local authorities from Round 1 (64 council areas) are among those where people say the local area has gone downhill. In the other 25 people tend to believe their local area has stayed largely the same; in no top tier target authority do people generally believe their area has improved recently.

While ‘no real change’ may be the prevailing view in most council areas, taking the data a step further and looking at whether those with a different view are more likely to say their area has improved or declined reveals that in almost all places people are more likely to say the latter.

In the 215 local authority areas where the most common view is that the local area has remained much the same over recent years, in fully 208 those who take a different view are more likely to say it has declined than improved. In just seven is the opposite true.

The strongest sense of decline appears in areas like Stoke-on-Trent (49%), Havering (48%), Thurrock (48%) and Rotherham (47%).

There are notable regional differences, with people in local authority areas in Scotland and the South generally less likely to feel their local area has declined.

In London, however, there is a great deal of variation from area to area. The aforementioned Havering has the second highest rate of people sensing decline in the country, yet at the same time the only four local authorities where “generally improved” comes out on top are also in London: Hackney (38% generally improved), Islington (36%), Southwark (36%), and Tower Hamlets (34%).

The mean share of the local population in 2021 top priority Levelling Up areas who believe their locality has declined is 41%, slightly less at 37% in tier two, and slightly less again at 35% in tier three (those areas not earmarked for any round one funding).

Of all local authorities where “generally declined” is the prevailing view, nearly half (64) are in the top level of 2021 Levelling Up funding.

Residents of Barking and Dagenham, Boston, and Newcastle-under-Lyme are most likely to see their local areas as places people want to get away from

A separate question asked Britons whether they live in “the sort of place that people try to get away from” versus “the sort of place that people would like to move to”.

The results show 45 council areas where the local population tend to take the gloomy view.

The London borough of Barking and Dagenham, as well as Midlands towns Boston and Newcastle-under-Lyme stand out, with more than half of people in each area describing them as the kind of place people flee if they get the chance.

The wider grouping of 45 council areas includes several large urban areas like Sunderland, Wigan, Coventry, Bolton, Stoke-on-Trent, Wakefield, Croydon, and Wolverhampton, large towns such as Luton, Stevenage, Oldham, Harlow, and Hyndburn, as well as some more rural areas such as North Lincolnshire, Ashfield, Pendle, and Boston.

There are notable regional divides in whether people view their area as the type of place people are trying to get away from or move to. Opinions across London, the South, and Scotland are generally more positive about their local area than they are on average in the North.

With many top priority areas from the first round missing out on the funding announced today, it remains unclear if the government’s strategy to Level Up areas in the North and Midlands is having, or will have, any discernible effect on local public opinion about opportunities and improvements in their communities.

Data tables can be downloaded here

YouGov interviewed over 115,000 British adults between 9th August and 21st September 2022, and used Multilevel Regression and Post-Stratification (MRP) to model the estimated outcomes at the local authority level (district, metropolitan borough, London borough, and unitary authority). MRP models first estimate the relationship between a wide variety of characteristics about people and their opinions – in this case, beliefs about their local areas – in what is called a ‘multilevel model’, which allows us to account for specific area (in this case, council) level effects as well as background information about respondents themselves. MRP then uses data at the local authority level to predict the outcomes at council level based on the concentration of various different types of people who live there. The model assigns each type of person a probability of (1) believing their area has “generally improved” or “generally declined”, and then (2) believing their area is the type of place people are trying to “get away from” versus “move to” (this is the ‘post-stratification’ component), and then estimates the area-level distributions using information about how many of those specific types of voters live in each area. In this instance, 1000 draws from the posterior distribution of the multilevel model were used to predict the council-level probabilities, which ran for 10,000 iterations across four parallel chains. MRP has been successfully used to predict the outcomes of both the 2017 and 2019 UK General Elections.

Tory Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi made to pay ‘million pound’ fine to taxman

Rishi Sunak is under pressure to sack Nadhim Zahawi from the cabinet after it was claimed the former chancellor paid a penalty of more than £1m to settle a probe into his tax affairs.

Kate Devlin

The Tory party chairman has faced mounting questions over his personal payments to HMRC, but the prime minister has so far stood by him.

Some senior Tories believe it is now impossible for Mr Zahawi to continue in his job, with one describing the situation as “unsustainable”.

The revelation that Mr Zahawi was forced to pay the penalty – part of a reported total tax settlement of almost £5m – comes as The Independent reveals how he tried to gag this newspaper from revealing that he was being investigated by the National Crime Agency and HMRC last year.

In an extraordinary exchange last July, Mr Zahawi repeatedly threatened to sue if any stories were published, saying:

• One hundred per cent I will take legal action

• There was no such investigation by the NCA. I have paid all due taxes and obeyed all financial laws and regulations.

• I repeat I will take legal action

Mr Zahawi also paid a 30 per cent penalty to HMRC, according to a report in The Guardian, taking the estimated total to more than £4.8m – though his spokesperson told the newspaper he “does not recognise this amount”.

Labour last night called on the prime minister to sack Mr Zahawi.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said: “Rishi Sunak promised a government of integrity, professionalism, and accountability but instead he’s propping up a motley crew of scandal-ridden ministers.”

She added: “The position of the man who was until recently in charge of the UK’s tax system and who this prime minister appointed Conservative Party chair is now untenable.

“It’s time for Rishi Sunak to put his money where his mouth is and dismiss Nadhim Zahawi from his cabinet.”

One Conservative former minister said told The Independent Mr Zahawi’s position was “unsustainable”, because the former chancellor would be asked about his tax affairs every time he appeared in public.

The party would be left with a “chairman that can’t do media [interviews]”, he said, a role that is especially crucial around the upcoming local elections, which are already predicted to be difficult for the Conservatives.

Another former minister said there was a risk the row would “hang over” Mr Zahawi and “overshadow” the role of party chairman.

“A judgement needs to be made about whether this storm can be weathered and a line is drawn or it hangs over the chairman and overshadows [his role as party chairman],” they said.

“It is a conversation behind closed doors that needs to be had – about if he can fulfil his duties,” they added.

Mr Zahawi was seen by many MPs to have done a good job in the short time he has been in the role.

At the weekend The Sun on Sunday reported that he had settled a tax dispute relating to an offshore company registered in Gibraltar to hold shares in the polling company that he co-founded, YouGov.

YouGov’s 2009 annual report showed a more than 10 per cent shareholding by the Gibraltar-registered Balshore Investments Ltd, and described the company as the “family trust of Nadhim Zahawi”. At the time Mr Zahawi was an executive director of YouGov.

A spokesperson for Mr Zahawi has previously said that his taxes are “properly declared and paid in the UK” and the minister “has never had to instruct any lawyers to deal with HMRC on his behalf”.

During the week, Mr Sunak defended his party chairman, telling MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions that Mr Zahawi “has already addressed this matter in full and there’s nothing more that I can add”.

The prime minister’s press secretary also said Mr Zahawi “has spoken and been transparent with HMRC”.

On whether Mr Sunak believed the matter was now closed, she said: “I don’t know whether the prime minister has reviewed it in full, but I do know that he takes Nadhim Zahawi at his word.”

Mr Zahawi’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

A HMRC spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on identifiable taxpayers due to strict confidentiality rules.”

No 10 declined to comment.

Dartmoor landowner who won wild camping ban may be putting rare beetle at risk

The landowner who took Dartmoor national park to court to ban wild camping may be putting a rare beetle at risk by releasing pheasants next to an ecologically important woodland, against the advice of environmental experts.

Helena Horton 

This is despite him having said he pushed for a wild camping ban in order to “improve conservation of the Dartmoor commons”, arguing that campers damage the national park with litter and disturbance.

Last week, the right to wild camp in England and Wales was lost after Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager, succeeded in his case against Dartmoor national park. It was the last place it was possible to wild camp without seeking permission.

Darwall, Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowner, brought the case against the national park authority, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors never existed. The owner of the 1,619-hectare (4,000-acre) Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals on his land.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters from the Right to Roam campaign are to march on his land in protest at having their right to wild camp taken away. They are outraged that landowners this week including Darwall have struck a deal with the national park in which they are paid to allow camping on small portions of their land. Campaigners have called it a “stitch-up”.

Natural England, the government body in charge of enforcing conservation measures in national parks, has warned the estate not to release pheasants near Dendles Wood, a fragment of temperate rainforest on the southern edge of Dartmoor, adjacent to the Blachford estate. It is protected as a national nature reserve (NNR) and site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and falls within the Dartmoor special area of conservation (SAC). The letter to the estate contained details on the necessary maintenance to retain these statuses, including not releasing pheasants.

In a conservation plan for the wood, released under freedom of information laws, Natural England says that “operations likely to damage the special interest” of Dendles Wood include “the release into the site of any wild, feral or domestic animal” and “introduction of and changes in game and waterfowl management and hunting practice”.

The very rare blue ground beetle is put under pressure by the release of the birds, according to Natural England. The plan says “high pheasant stocking rates are a threat to this species”because pheasants prey on the beetles.

Dendles Wood is one of only a handful of sites in the UK where the large and distinctive beetle makes its home. It is found at just 15 sites in England and Wales, eight of which are in Dartmoor national park.

Despite this, local residents have found a pheasant release pen on land owned by the Darwall family that lies less than 250 metres from the edge of the NNR. Photos show the release pen has multiple entrances and exits for pheasants, meaning they are free to enter the surrounding woods. Volunteer rangers have said that pheasants are one of the most common birds to be found in Dendles Wood.

The estate also appears to be breaching the licence to release pheasants to shoot. It does not appear to have reported to Natural England the number or density of pheasants it releases near the wood, even though this is one of the conditions of the GL43 general licence under which landowners are permitted to release pheasants within 500 metres of an SAC.

The environmental campaigner and author Guy Shrubsole said: “It’s ironic that one of the reasons stated by the Darwalls for bringing their legal case against wild camping was its alleged impacts on Dartmoor’s ecology.

“The reality is that responsible wild camping leaves no trace. The same cannot be said of the 50 million pheasants that are released by landowners into the British countryside every year.

“Now the public have had their access rights sharply curtailed. The landowner’s pheasants, meanwhile, still have a full right to roam over a national nature reserve.”

The Dartmoor national park authority is consulting with its legal team with a view to appealing against the decision. Lawyers for the park have said that ecologically damaging actions by the estate could be a factor in any appeal.

Darwall was contacted via his lawyer but had no comment to make.

State of social care a ‘tragedy’ and cost-of-living crisis a ‘catastrophe’

The state of the UK’s social care system has been branded “a tragedy” by a prominent economist who was the architect of the original plans for a care cap.

Aine Fox

Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led a review into the future of funding social care under the coalition government and whose proposed and long-awaited reforms of social care were delayed in the autumn statement, said it is a shameful situation.

It came as leading public health expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot described the cost-of-living crisis as a “humanitarian catastrophe” due to the effects it will have on physical and mental health.

Sir Andrew accused the Government of having done nothing to address problems in social care and said the most vulnerable people in society are “not being looked after properly”.

Speaking on Tonight With Andrew Marr on LBC radio, he said: “The thing that makes me cross is not that they haven’t implemented my proposals, it’s that we have people who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society who are not being looked after properly.

“And we have fabulous people delivering care to them who are under unnecessary and inappropriate pressure. So, the problem is not whether they’ve delivered my proposals or anybody else’s proposals, they haven’t done anything.

“We have an enormous challenge as a society. We have fabulous people willing to deliver the care. And we’re not looking after either the people who need the care or the people who are delivering it properly and we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Reforms including an £86,000 cap on personal care cost contributions and an expanded means test that is more generous than the existing one had been due to come into effect from October 2023.

Asked how he felt about the reforms being delayed by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in November, he said: “I think it’s a tragedy. I mean, I think the way that the social care system is in the UK at the moment is a tragedy, and we could do so much better.

“And I often hear people saying, ‘oh, it’s huge amounts of money’. It’s not huge amounts of money compared to the NHS, and the knock-on effects in terms of misery for families and problems to the NHS are vast.

“It just astonishes me after 40 years of working in this kind of area that something which seems so obvious could still not have happened. And I, and people like me, have to take some of the blame. We’ve clearly not explained it clearly enough. But it is something to be really ashamed of ourselves as a country about.”

Sir Michael said evidence from September suggested one in six households without children were in food insecurity while one in four households with children were in food insecurity.

He told the same programme on LBC: “That means missing meals, not eating when you’re hungry. That will damage health, living in cold homes, that will damage health, the stress of the struggle to try and make ends meet will damage health. It will damage physical health, and it will damage mental health. So, the cost-of-living crisis is indeed a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Asked about his choice of words, he referred to the case of two year-old Awaab Ishak, who died after prolonged exposure to mould in his flat, which was maintained by a housing association in Rochdale.

He said: “I think when a two-year-old boy dies because of mould in his home, what would you call it? This is a preventable tragedy. I don’t want to bandy words around and cheapen words. But when a two-year-old boy dies because of mould in his home, this is a tragedy, and it’s the tip of the iceberg.”