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Department of Geography


Levelling Up Left Behind Places: Towards a Decentred National Political Economy

This project is concerned with the nature, causes, and scale of the ‘left behind places’ problem in the UK. Since it was elected in 2019, winning many northern constituencies formerly held by Labour, the UK Conservative government has made repeated pledges that it intends to ‘level up’ economic prosperity and opportunities across the country’s cities, towns and localities. As part of its commitment to that objective, a Levelling Up Fund has been announced, a major Government department has been renamed as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Community, and a White Paper on Levelling Up has been published (2022).

The project uses novel detailed empirical analyses of data going back to the beginning of the 1970s to identify left behind places, and understand and characterise their causal histories. These analyses indicate that nothing less than a bold new mission-oriented policy is required if geographical inequalities in economic prosperity and performance across the UK are to be significantly reduced. The Levelling Up White Paper is a positive step in the right direction but in its present form is unlikely to succeed. Our research critically interrogates the polices in the White Paper, and sets out the arguments for a bolder approach based around a number of key fundamental requirements:

Re-envisioning the economy

Moving beyond ‘nation as economy model’, to one in which every region, city and town is recognised as integral and essential to national prosperity

Embedding geography into national policy-making

Evaluating regional and subregional impact of mainstream macro-economic policy-making, and ensuring those policies take explicit account of differing regional and local needs and priorities

Setting clear legally-binding ‘levelling up’ targets

Specification of maximum acceptable spatial differences in key local economic indicators (such as employment rate, productivity, GDP per capita), and per capita equality in critical public services provision (such as education, transport, health)

Establishing nation-wide devolved system of local economic development and governance

A federated territorial system of accountable city-region bodies/authorities, charged with delivering and monitoring holistic socio-economic development strategies

Binding commitment of financial resources appropriate to the task

Legally binding central funding agreement, as a fixed percent of annual GNI, for local economic, social, infrastructural and environment schemes. Plus new system of Local Authority Economic Development (‘Leveling Up’) bonds; and regionalised Business Bank

Above all, levelling up necessitates decentering the UK’s national policy economy, and our research is focused on how this can be done.


Levelling Up Left Behind Places: The Scale and Nature of the Economic and Policy Challenge (Routledge), 2021, (135pp).