Levelling Up: Lessons From Four Global City-Regions

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Nantes Cathedral

Dr Abigail Taylor discusses a new report led by City-REDI that identifies lessons for levelling up from the experiences of four international city-regions trying to address regional inequalities.

New Research

Today new research conducted by City-REDI with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) is being launched. The research finds policies designed to address regional inequalities are most effective when they are tailored to local communities’ needs, as opposed to a national and centralised approach.

Based on analysis of approaches used to reduce inequalities in four city-regions from across the globe, the report examines how Fukuoka (Japan), Leipzig (Germany), Cleveland (USA) and Nantes (France) have all achieved success in overcoming significant social and economic inequalities in recent years.

Key reasons for success identified across the case studies are:
  1. Shared political will and partnerships: each were vital in overcoming political differences and uniting public and private institutions around a common vision.
  2. Clear strategy and vision: each city set out what they should look and feel like as places to live and work.
  3. Investing for the long term: a commitment to scale and longevity in funding is an imperative.
  4. Local knowledge: an in-depth understanding of the strengths and weaknesses that drive local economies, and an ability to build on those strengths.
  5. Monitoring and evaluation: a system that allows for policies and programmes to be regularly sense-checked and updated in a timely way that benefits total performance.
  6. Adapting national frameworks to address local needs
  7. Diversification: the ability to design policies that enable growth strategies to take root and thrive relies on the strength of a local narrative.
  8. Key players: individuals and private organisations can serve as enablers of growth, leading by example.
  9. Adequate and responsive funding: identifying where and when finance is made available can be as important as the policies themselves.
Leipzig University (Photo from Leipzig Free Tours on Unsplash)

The report offers selected international insights as the UK government launches its Levelling Up White Paper. What is particularly interesting is how each of the city-regions has adopted different routes for addressing regional economic inequalities. Nantes is a good example of innovation in public procurement and ensuring sufficient resources are available to manage contracts appropriately. Cleveland provides insights into how community wealth building and alternative progressive approaches to local economic development can mobilise partners to work towards common goals. Leipzig and Fukuoka have created specialist economic clusters based on previous strengths.

View all our work on Levelling Up

All the case study place have benefited from strong local institutions, often working in partnership with regional and national governments to lead change. These ranged from a combined metropolitan authority in Nantes to the Cleveland Foundation, an independent philanthropic institution. Fukuoka and Nantes each benefited from a charismatic mayor with a vision for the city.

The report indicates that if governments want to reduce inequalities between regions, diverse investment focused on a blend of economic, cultural, business and spatial development is important. The city-regions profiled have been empowered to deliver their own levelling-up policies, with economic development in all four backed by significant levels of sustained funding.


Professor Anne Green, Chair of Regional Economic Development at City-REDI and report co-author, said:

“Tackling regional inequalities and improving people’s lives requires a coherent, integrated and long-term approach to regional and sub-regional economic development across policy domains.”

“This means we need governance structures that facilitate effective joint working between place-based policies addressing local challenges and exploiting local and regional opportunities on the one hand, and place-sensitive national policies on the other.”

“Sub-national institutions need to have appropriate statutory powers, responsibilities and resources to develop and implement a strategic approach to local and regional economic development over the long-term, with capacity for monitoring and evaluating the success and failures of policies.”

Jeffrey Matsu, CIPFA Chief Economist and report co-author, said:

We should recognise that there will always be inequities in society. The role of government policies should therefore be to support opportunities that place less reliance on where you live or who you know.”  

“While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing inequality, the research shows that access to a quality education, timely workforce development programmes and stable and well-paying jobs are the keys to a better quality of life that can benefit entire communities.”

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said:

This report shows there is no quick fix to addressing inequality. The answers are complex, but what is clear is that a long-term approach is needed coupled with sustained levels of funding. A clearly defined strategy and vision, specific to local issues, are also essential in helping level up communities.”  

“The international examples in this report serve as an excellent blueprint for producing innovative, targeted and effective policies – which the UK government can and should apply to its levelling up agenda.”

Download the report: Investing in Regional Equality – lessons from four cities

Members of the CIPFA and City-REDI teams that produced the report, along with regional collaborators, will discuss the findings in an online event on March 3rd. Book your place here.

There is an accompanying metrics report which can be viewed here (scroll down on the page). This report explains how the measurement and monitoring of policies and outcomes are vital in addressing regional inequalities.

This blog was written by Dr Abigail Taylor, Research Fellow, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham. 

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.

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