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Why ‘levelling up’ across the UK shouldn’t create a ‘south-north’ divide in opportunity.

Last updated 03 January 2020
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Dave Axam

Enterprise M3 LEP chair Dave Axam's view on LEPs’ vital role in supporting the government achieve its target of boosting economic opportunity UK-wide.

“Let’s unite this country, let’s spread opportunity to every corner of the UK, with superb education, superb infrastructure and technology. Let’s get this done and move forward.”

Boris Johnson, December 13th 2019.

The Prime Minister’s post-election words have been rightfully taken to mean there will be much-needed investment in the North – but ‘levelling-up’ shouldn’t be just a way of dealing with our historic ‘north-south’ economic divide.  In Boris’ own words, ‘levelling-up’ needs to ‘spread opportunity to every corner of the UK’.

As LEPs, we understand the need to invest in the infrastructure, innovation and in the improvement of skills and education necessary to make sure economic opportunity is more equally spread. After all, that has always been at the heart of what we do.

We are business-led, and our business mind-set combined with our understanding and experience of the challenges facing us, puts us, as LEPs, centre-stage to support future opportunities for the UK economy.

Our EM3 region is globally competitive, unique for its knowledge, digital and design based economy. A powerhouse economy in our own right, we have a rich vein of innovation running through us –a strong business-led Research and Development ethos which creates genuine commercial opportunities.

We are not just one of the UK’s economic engines (and our region is already a significant net contributor to the UK economy), we provide a growth trajectory which needs to be maintained because what we do in our area affects the whole of the UK.

We need to stop thinking regionally, or in terms of north v south. Growth and investment in this part of the UK is a powerful enabler for growth across the UK because business isn’t bound by borders.

Our knowledge-based design led digital economy is an innovation engine that powers advanced engineering and delivers high-skilled jobs across the UK –  an example is McLaren-designed cars in Woking which are now built at the Advanced Manufacturing Park between Sheffield and Rotherham.

We need to understand that levelling-up is about raising economic prosperity across the whole nation, and as a result, funding requirements to support infrastructure, education and technological innovation are as needed and as valuable in the south as they are in the north to the benefit of everyone who lives and works in the UK.

In our Strategic Economic Plan we recognise that our high performing economy has not yet reached its peak compared with other parts of the South East; and importantly, for our people, opportunities and prosperity are not shared evenly throughout our area.

We set out five priorities for growth to level up our communities and spread prosperity in our advanced digital and low carbon economy.  These were to focus on:

  1. High Value Sectors for a globally facing economy
  2. Enterprise and Innovation for Scaling Up High Productivity SMEs
  3. Skills for a High Value, High Growth Economy
  4. Connectivity for a 21st Century Advanced Digital and Low Carbon Economy
  5. Dynamic Communities and Sustainable Growth

By delivering on our priorities, investing in the ‘superb education, superb infrastructure and technology’ Boris describes, we can support post-Brexit growth and lay the foundations for the distribution of prosperity UK-wide.

We have the right tools, the right attitude, and, yes, if we have the right funding, then we can deliver the investment which will unleash the potential of all our regions, both economically and socially.

 

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