RUTH SUNDERLAND: People are proud of their hometowns, despite all the problems – this can be turned into a powerful force to restart Britain
- The government’s goal of reducing inequality seasoned with a healthy dose of self-interest
- The gap between London and elsewhere is actually a chasm
- Moving to the next level means providing better opportunities for future generations
- Young lives transformed by good schools, which also benefit local employers
As Westminster was convulsed by the vote of confidence in the Prime Minister, a group of business leaders were served a plate of chicken masala 212 miles away at the Keighley Asian Women and Children’s Centre.
The food was cooked by women in hopes of creating a social enterprise delivering curries for lunch to nearby businesses.
One told how Naz Kazmi, the centre’s general manager, helped her regain her confidence after an abusive marriage.
Tough talk: Boris Johnson’s government has shown enthusiasm for reducing regional inequality, seasoned with a healthy dose of self-interest as it clings to Red Wall voters
Rather than being dark, it was inspiring.
Prince Charles’ Business in the Community network, which organized the visit to Keighley and Bradford, is celebrating its 40th anniversary and has been engaged in what is now called leveling up all the while.
In Keighley, it is clear that the government’s flagship policy is badly needed – and how many people’s lives could be transformed. Boris Johnson’s government has shown enthusiasm for reducing regional inequality, seasoned with a healthy dose of self-interest by clinging to Red Wall voters.
It is an extremely difficult task. Governments as old as Harold Wilson’s have tried and failed. Perhaps the difference this time is that we are entering a digital economy that can in theory thrive anywhere, so the environment might finally be more conducive.
But the gap between London and elsewhere is actually a chasm. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says Preston, the most productive city in the North West, lags London by 30%. Sunderland, the best performers in the North East, are behind by 20%.
Unlike previous downturns, employment is abundant across the country, but many of the jobs are low-skilled and low-paying.
Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests the gap between London and the rest of the country is widening, with output in the capital rising 1.2% in the first quarter of this year, outpacing all other regions.
Existing disparities will be aggravated by the cost of living crisis, which will hit the poorest communities hardest.
When the government’s white paper on leveling came out in February, the IFS warned that its ambitions were unlikely to be achieved, even with significant resources and ‘the best policy’, none of which are in evidence .
Last week the House of Commons cross-party public accounts committee found that support from the government’s £4.8billion Leveling Fund had been granted ‘on the basis of unrealistic claims’ at the expense of more solid. This is unacceptable. Far too many are at stake, and far too many people will be deprived of the life chances they deserve. In Bradford and Keighley, as in other cities, there is no shortage of energy, ideas or an entrepreneurial spirit. But there is frustration with unnecessary obstacles and checkboxes.
There is also frustration with the state of the country’s transportation system. As the capital basks in the new Elizabeth Line, Bradford has the worst rail connections of any major conurbation. The situation has not been helped by the significant reduction of Northern Powerhouse Rail or the abandonment of the HS2 Leeds section.
In less affluent communities with poor public transport where a car is essential to get to work, £100 to fill up is ruinous.
Leveling up means better opportunities for generations to come. Young lives are transformed by good schools, which also benefit local employers looking for recruits.
Businesses should be encouraged to follow the lead of JCB, which backs its own academy in Staffordshire, and businessman Christopher Nieper, who took over failing Derbyshire.
People are proud of their hometowns, despite all the problems. This can be turned into a powerful force to restart Britain.