Abandon ‘levelling up’ agenda at your peril, PM warned | Business

Abandon ‘levelling up’ agenda at your peril, PM warned | Business

Boris Johnson has been warned that failure to stick to the government’s levelling-up agenda will add to the already serious economic problems faced by Britain’s manufacturing heartlands.

A new report from the industrial communities alliance (ICA) – an all-party group representing local authorities in the industrial regions of England, Scotland and Wales – said the prime minister should resist pressure to water down promised support.

The ICA said the levelling-up agenda had shown the first signs of delivering in the period between the December general election and the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Now that the whole of the UK has been plunged into a new recession, there is a danger that levelling up is forgotten and that all efforts go instead into building a national economic recovery. This would be a mistake,” it said.

“All parts of Britain are indeed being hit by the new recession, but the less prosperous parts – which includes most older industrial areas – started off further behind and remain further behind. The recession should not be an excuse to divert funding away from ‘levelling up’, as so many newly elected Conservative MPs can be expected to remind ministers.”

The ICA’s message came as the manufacturing industry warned that it could suffer a £35bn hit from the coronavirus pandemic this year due to the temporary shutdown of factories.

Faced with the deepest downturn in manufacturing output on record, the industry lobby group Make UK and Santander said it would take until 2022 for the sector to recover its pre-Covid-19 growth trajectory, while calling on the government to launch further measures to support businesses and jobs in the sector.

Setting out the scale of the challenge ahead, the report warned that manufacturers were continuing to see sales and orders nosedive owing to the pandemic, with more than 70% of manufacturers reporting a further decrease in income as lockdown measures are lifted.

Make UK said the government needed to repurpose its industrial strategy to help mount the fightback, while also helping to promote investment in low-carbon and digital manufacturing.

The ICA report called on the government to take a range of actions, including an extension of its job retention scheme, ensuring a trade deal is agreed with the EU, and providing help to keep young people off the dole.

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Keith Cunliffe, chair of the ICA and a Labour councillor from Wigan, said: “In terms of prosperity and life chances, our older industrial areas started off further behind and the new recession has made things worse. The Boris Johnson government needs to revive the national economy, but it also needs to stick with the levelling-up agenda that was promised in the general election.”

Johnson’s 80-seat majority in the 2019 general election was secured by winning Labour “red wall” seats in the Midlands and the northern regions of England. The prime minister has insisted that the government will stick to its promises despite the recession.

Steve Manion, a Conservative councillor from a former mining area in east Kent, said: “I believe we have proposals here that lots of people, from across the political divide, can rally around to help build our older industrial areas out of recession. Westminster holds the purse strings, but local authorities and local communities should be trusted to do their bit and be given the chance to rebuild.”

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