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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

IPPR North respond to Spending Review 2020

Responding to today's spending review, IPPR North Director Sarah Longlands said:

“Last year, this government was elected off the back of a promise to ‘level up’ our country. Now, almost a year on, their honeymoon period is over and people have been left asking what has been done to level up power and investment across England. A ‘levelling up fund’ of just £4B, managed by Whitehall, and administered through competitive bidding is not the kind of action that was needed today to meet the ‘levelling up’ rhetoric.

“Here in the North, our region has been especially vulnerable to the economic impact of Covid-19 because our resilience has been eroded by the UK’s deep regional divides and a decade of austerity- both caused by central government. What we really needed today was ambitious plans to empower local leaders and people to lead our recovery from Covid-19, and from our regional divides. What we got was a sticking plaster”.

On infrastructure investment, Research Fellow Marcus Johns said:

“Investment in infrastructure is welcome, but today’s announcements are simply not enough to ‘level up’ our nation’s deep infrastructure divides. In fact, on transport alone, if the North had seen the same per person investment as London over the last decade, it would have received £66 billion more. £19 billion for the whole country next year, including money for potholes is paltry in comparison.

“A National Infrastructure Bank based in the North is welcome. But it must be readily accessible to the North and should have enough resources to deliver an infrastructure revolution that will truly level up.

“In reality, we will only see an ‘infrastructure revolution’ when the government finally realises that local leaders and best placed to drive and deliver it. And that realisation did not happen today. The North needs substantial devolution to make investment decisions, develop new projects, and deliver them at speed. Only by giving the North the power and resources to act, can we get our economy back into gear, and deliver the infrastructure that doesn’t hold back, but helps people in the North to realise their potential”.

On the Green Book, he said:

“By including reform of the Green Book in today’s spending review documents, the Chancellor finally acknowledges that for decades, public investment decisions have neglected too many parts of the country outside of the capital. Nobody, including Londoners, has benefitted from this injustice.

“But government ministers are ultimately accountable for government decisions. Those political decisions are not made on the basis of Green Book appraisals alone. In reality, successive Chancellors and Westminster at large have hidden behind the Green Book when they really lacked the political will to invest in the North.

“So, it’s not just the Green Book that must change—it’s our political system. It remains to be seen whether Green Book reform will be coupled with the political commitment we need to address the UK’s deep regional divides. Real commitment to this is to devolve substantial power and resources to England’s towns, cities and rural areas, starting with the North. It is communities- not Whitehall- who have the political will and expertise to develop the projects they need to truly ‘level up’”.

On education, Researcher Amreen Qureshi said: 

“The announcement of £2.2 billion additional funding for schools is very welcome. The challenges of Covid-19 for schools and teachers have varied enormously across different parts of the UK - so local areas need the flexibility to make the best use of this money and work locally to ensure that things like digital exclusion and poverty don't have even greater impacts on children's learning as the pandemic continues.

“Longer term we need school funding to recognise the challenges of poverty and deprivation that learners, and schools face – and to provide a funding settlement that levels our schools up, not down. Confirmation of the £220m for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is good to see - this is especially important as 4.2 million children are currently trapped in poverty, with the North East having the second highest rate across all English Regions”.

On skills funding, she said:

“This new funding has the potential to make a real difference to people's lives by boosting opportunities for people to learn throughout their lives and adapt to a rapidly changing economy. However, it's important that local and regional leaders have a big say in how it's spent, so that it matches the immediate needs of local economies and the businesses and people who work in them. That means devolving funding to areas where adult education budgets are already in the hands of combined authorities, and further moves towards local control of the skills system.” 

On investment to end rough sleeping, Senior Research Fellow Jonathan Webb said:

“We cannot end homelessness if we don’t treat its causes. The Chancellor’s announcement of £254 million to tackle rough sleeping is welcome, but rough sleeping only represents the tip of the iceberg. 

“For the past decade and during the pandemic, the number of people living in temporary accommodation has skyrocketed, with some of the starkest increases in the North of England. At the same time, the reasons why people have found themselves homeless have changed, with relationship breakdown and domestic violence now leading causes. The government must take a preventative approach. 

“It’s about time local government and regional leaders received the financial backing they need to end homelessness for good. This means not just preventing rough sleeping but increasing the funding for other council services like care. These services have struggled, first under the stress of austerity and now the pandemic. Without investing in them, we cannot begin to address the causes of homelessness. Central government must also ensure that people can move on from temporary accommodation by working with councils to increase the supply of social housing by investing £15 billion a year to build the genuinely affordable homes this country needs”.

On local government funding and austerity, he said: 

“Councils cannot endure another decade of austerity. Many councils are on the brink financially and in the North of England, months of enhanced restrictions have taken their toll on an enfeebled public sector. An extra £3 billion and added flexibility on council tax is not enough to fill the financial black hole facing local government. The phenomenal efforts of council staff and leaders is not a replacement for proper government funding. 

“Central government must provide local government with the resources they need to rebuild. But its current investment does not match the ambition of councils, who do not just want a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. The government should ensure that this is a decade of renewal. This means giving councils support to implement its ambitious local climate action plans and provide effective local services that the North needs to grow and prosper”.

ENDS

Contact:  Rosie Lockwood, Media and Campaigns Manager for IPPR North, on 07585772633 or [email protected]

Notes:

IPPR North spokespeople are available for interview.

IPPR North is the leading think-tank for the north of England, developing bold ideas for a stronger economy and prosperous places and people. For more information, visit ippr.org/north.     

For IPPR’s reaction to the spending review, contact David Wastell, Head of News and Media on [email protected] or 07921403651.

Government’s Spending Review documents can be found online here.