REDI-Updates 3: The Challenge of Implementing, Understanding and Measuring “Levelling Up”

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Welcome to REDI-Updates - providing expert data insights and clear policy guidance. 

In this edition, WMREDI staff look at the government's flagship policy - Levelling Up. We look at the challenge of implementing, understanding and measuring Levelling Up. 

In this blog, Professor Simon Collinson and Ben Brittain outline what's in the latest edition of REDI Updates and some of the challenges that lie ahead for the Levelling Up agenda.

View REDI-Updates.
Professor Simon Collinson – Director’s Welcome

The two years since our last edition of REDI Updates have been unusually challenging. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the economy and our society, but also on the way we work, meet, and interact. Because of this, we have refocused much of our research and analysis on these challenges. Adapting to support our stakeholders, we have been tracking how this drawn-out shock has affected firms, households, and communities in our city-region and elsewhere, across the UK and globally. Our long-term, consistent dedication to building an in-depth understanding about how regional economies work, has given us a clear advantage in evaluating the effects of this and other shocks to the system.

Because of this, we have been able to contribute significantly to the national debate, providing direct inputs to Treasury, BEIS, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and directly with Ministers. An Industrial Strategy Council report on what it takes to level up places with a WMREDI lead author was cited, alongside other outputs, in the Levelling Up report itself.

But we have also maintained our commitment to supporting our regional partners with the kinds of analysis you will find here and on our websites. The WMREDI consortium, with our new hub in the University’s wonderful new city-centre building, The Exchange, has fed intelligence into policy discussions across the West Midlands and the wider Midlands Engine region. Our West Midlands Economic Impact Monitor (over 70 editions now), presented to the WMCA Mayor’s Economic Impact Group every fortnight, helps shape the region’s response to the shifting economic environment.

Throughout this period, we have stayed focused on our original mission, to support inclusive regional growth. Through the co-production of analytical tools, insights, intelligence, and policy support, we help city regions grow better, not just faster. This mission is now even more central to the wider political agenda in the UK and beyond. The long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper has been launched and we are uniquely positioned to contribute to help regions leverage the opportunities it presents.

A small sub-set of our research is showcased in this edition of REDI Updates, and much of it focuses on the above White Paper but is linked to a broader and longer-term set of challenges and opportunities for city regions. We ask to what extent ‘devolving-down to level up’ is the cure for persistent low-growth and low-productivity in many UK regions. Also, given the various challenges of Levelling Up, is there sufficient funding (or actually any new funding) in the White Paper? Sub-themes, including skills and employment support, the role of universities and how public R&D flows to regions outside of the South-East might give a boost to regional innovation systems (or not), are also explored. Finally, a large part of this edition is dedicated to measures, indicators, and impact evaluation that REDI offers. These kinds of frameworks and analytical tools can help us work out where “the Level” is in “Levelling Up”.

Ben Brittian- Editor of REDI Updates

In the last issue of REDI-Updates, WMREDI demonstrated how our research and skills in applied research had been used to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Through our analysis we supported the West Midlands Combined Authority, LEPs and others, to better understand the impact of the pandemic on our city-region’s economy.

As we leave the pandemic and enter a recovery phase the prominence of inter-and -intra-regional inequalities is once again a dominant issue that needs addressing. The levelling up white paper has firmly established the government’s intention to address this. Whilst the white paper is a large document (332 pages) WMREDI has analysed the scope, funding and ambition within the document.

What new funding is attached to the white paper? What and when will powers be devolved? How will the region benefit from a greater share of R&D funding?

Our analysis, provided in this edition of REDI-Updates, demonstrates that WMREDI is effective in responding to moving agendas, but crucially that we have a depth of research readily available to add depth to any analysis.

Through previous research conducted by Dr Abigail Taylor and Professor Anne Green, we emphasise the need for successful partnerships working in driving better outcomes in regional growth. Additional research shows other countries have great examples of levelling up, transforming city economies from post-industrial ‘left behind’ cities, into vibrant and dynamic and growing economies.

We have also risen to the challenge of how we measure levelling up. The white paper mentions the important need to evaluate outcomes and measure trends.

There is difficulty in that. What available data can go to the granular and local level to give effective insight into the 12 missions outlined in the white paper?

In this edition, we discuss all this and more.

At its core, our research and analysis discussed in-depth in this edition, demonstrate that WMREDI is using its innovative hybrid mix of academic expertise in sustainable regional economic development and our applied research co-created with regional partners means to robustly meet the emerging challenges in growing our city-regions.

WMREDI will meet the challenge of levelling up our regions with the same vigour that has defined our approach to other issues.

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This blog was written by Professor Simon Collinson and  Ben Brittain,  Former Research Fellow, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham. Now working for the Midlands Mayor as a Policy Advisor. 

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

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