Primary research into the challenges facing local decision-makers across the North of England

The domestic political landscape has been dominated by the term “levelling up “ for the lifetime of this parliament. But what does it mean, what are the challenges and issues facing those charged at a local level with delivering profound change across the North of England?

This report for Atkins unveils new research, conducted with senior leaders in local and regional government in the North of England, to understand how those challenges and issues are really felt.

The research took place shortly after Boris Johnson announced his intention to resign in early July.   Domestic political uncertainty, the ongoing war in Ukraine along with a dramatic rise in the cost of living and a steadily darkening economic prognosis was the backdrop to the research.  These issues seemed to push “levelling up” down the political agenda and there was open debate about whether it would survive the change of Prime Minister in September.  Arguably this made the research even more valid given that it asked respondents about their confidence in “levelling up” in the short and medium term.

This report is informed by two phases of research, one qualitative and one quantitative. The qualitative stage comprised eighteen interviews with senior leaders across the north of England.  These were conducted by video calls and the majority of the sample were members of council executive bodies with some elected councillors and senior leaders. An online quantitative survey was sent to 1,000 decision-makers (comprising agencies, councillors and council executives).

Key Findings:

  • Several issues dominate the agenda – there is no single challenge, but transport and skills are the most commonly felt issues
  • Language matters: regional rebalancing preferred to ‘unhelpful’ levelling up
  • Pessimism about chances of future progress. Only 24% are confident about progress over the next five years and 40% confident about progress over the next 10 years
  • Decision-makers want clarity and consistency from government. The vast majority (96%) of decision-makers say the lack of a joined up approach from central government is standing in the way of levelling up or rebalancing.
  • Decision-makers see a central role for businesses in achieving rebalancing