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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Leading think tank: "Levelling up was business as usual, but that has to change”

As levelling up turns three, new analysis reveals that public spending is lower in the North than England wide despite the agenda

The leading think tank for the north of England has published analysis showing that despite the rhetoric of the levelling up agenda, public spending on the North is lower, and has grown less since 2019, than in other parts of the country.

Three years ago this week, the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to “level up” the country, and under his premiership total public spending did increase in every region of England.

But researchers at IPPR North have today published new, independent analysis showing that the North now receives less per person in public spending than the rest of the country.

In 2021 (the latest available data), total public spending on the North was £16,223 per person, an increase of 17 per cent on 2019. This is lower than the England wide average of £16,309 per person, an increase of 20 per cent on 2019. London saw the highest public spending per person and the highest increase over the course of the levelling up agenda, at £19,231 per person, an increase of 25 per cent. Indeed, the spending gap between the North and the capital doubled over the period – growing from a difference of £1,513 per person to £3,008 per person between 2019 and 2021. The lowest total per person public spending in England was in Yorkshire and Humber, at £15,540 per person, and the lowest percentage increase was in the North East, which saw a 16 per cent increase.

The figures tell a similar story when researchers remove spending on the Covid support scheme and on health to allow for the impact of the pandemic. When removed from the calculations, IPPR North finds that the North received £11,505 per person on public spending in 2021, an increase of two per cent on 2019. The England average in 2021 was £11,524 per person, an increase of three per cent. The highest spend and highest percentage increase was on London, which saw £13,442 per person, an increase of eight per cent since 2019. In these calculations which remove spending on the Covid support scheme and health, the gap between the North and London grew by almost 80 per cent, from £1,081 per person to £1,937 per person over the 2019 to 2021 period. The lowest total per person public spending in 2021 was in Yorkshire and Humber at £11,049, and the lowest increase was in the North West, which saw an increase on 2019 of just one per cent.

IPPR North have welcomed the “essential” increase across England in public spending, but point to sustained underinvestment in the North and continuing financial pressure on northern local authorities, which have played into the country’s widening divides, as evidence that the next Prime Minister has to “go much further to unlock northern prosperity” and succeed in levelling up the country.

Marcus Johns, a research fellow at IPPR North said: 

“On public spending, the money simply didn’t follow the levelling up rhetoric. Although an increase in public spending on 2019 was welcome, and absolutely essential, spending is lower, and grew slower in the North, than in other parts of the country. At the same time, the country became more centralised and inequalities widened. This is because power is not distributed fairly in this country.

“Regions like the North deserve nothing less than to be afforded the tools they need to level up for themselves – it’s a sensible way of governing, and very normal in less unequal countries. But here, that hasn’t yet happened at anywhere near the level needed.

“Candidates to be the next Prime Minister should commit to delivering where their predecessors have not. Reversing cuts to local government and to planned transport projects, beefing up the Levelling Up Bill to make it a transformative piece of legislation, and going big on opportunity and future proofing the economy”.

Ryan Swift, a research fellow at IPPR North said: 

“Our analysis suggests that levelling up was, in many ways, business as usual. But that has to change.

“The next Prime Minister will enter Downing Street as a result of votes lent to their party, by many in the North and the Midlands, in 2019. The government has not yet delivered for people in these communities, so the next Prime Minister will have to go much further to unlock northern prosperity.

“If candidates hope to serve for longer than their recent predecessors, they should listen to the North, and make unlocking the region's significant potential their personal priority”.

ENDS 

Contact: Rosie Lockwood, head of media and advocacy 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. 

The figures in this press release are in real terms and are IPPR North analysis of the ONS’s country and regional public sector finances data release, available at: Country and regional public sector finances, UK - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Boris Johnson’s first speech in Downing Street as Prime Minister, delivered on 24th July 2019 can be accessed here.

The latest version of IPPR North’s levelling up promises tracker can be found here and our North in Numbers page is here

Total managed expenditure by region 2018/19 to 2020/21 (real terms)

 £ millions

2018/19 (in real terms)

2020/21

Total difference

Percentage difference

North

                  214,221.12

       252,661.00

              38,439.88

18%

North East

                     38,149.85

         44,667.00

                6,517.15

17%

North West

                  103,734.67

       122,115.00

              18,380.33

18%

Yorkshire and the Humber

                     72,336.59

         85,879.00

              13,542.41

19%

London

                  137,159.69

       173,123.00

              35,963.31

26%

South East

                  119,214.38

       144,248.00

              25,033.62

21%

England

                  763,957.61

       922,280.00

           158,322.39

21%

UK

                  926,282.22

   1,111,877.00

           185,594.78

20%

Source: ONS (2022) Country and regional public sector finances, UK: financial year ending 2021

Total managed per person expenditure by region 2018/19 to 2020/21 (real terms)

 £ per person

2018/19 (in real terms)

2021

Total difference

Percentage difference

North

13,884

16,223

2,339

17%

North East

14,353

16,662

2,308

16%

North West

14,226

16,575

2,349

17%

Yorkshire and the Humber

13,201

15,540

2,339

18%

London

15,397

19,231

3,833

25%

South East

13,052

15,650

2,597

20%

England

13,648

16,309

2,661

20%

UK

13,943

16,575

2,633

19%

North's gap with London

-1,513

-3,008

-1,495

99%

Source: ONS (2022) Country and regional public sector finances, UK: financial year ending 2021

Total managed expenditure by region 2018/19 to 2020/21 (real terms) with covid support scheme expenditure and total health spending removed

 £ millions

2019 (in real terms)

2021

Total difference

Percentage difference

North

            174,629.93

            179,188.00

            4,558.07

3%

North East

              31,102.03

              32,111.00

            1,008.97

3%

North West

              84,303.73

              86,014.00

            1,710.27

2%

Yorkshire and the Humber

              59,224.17

              61,063.00

            1,838.83

3%

London

            110,448.63

            121,016.00

          10,567.37

10%

South East

              99,123.28

            102,466.00

            3,342.72

3%

England

            626,025.40

            651,692.00

          25,666.60

4%

UK

            761,061.99

            792,670.00

          31,608.01

4%

Source: ONS (2022) Country and regional public sector finances, UK: financial year ending 2021

Total managed per person expenditure by region 2018/19 to 2020/21 (real terms) with covid support scheme expenditure and total health spending removed

 £ per person

2019 (in real terms)

2021

Total difference

Percentage difference

North

11,318

11,505

187

2%

North East

11,702

11,978

276

2%

North West

11,561

11,675

114

1%

Yorkshire and the Humber

10,808

11,049

241

2%

London

12,399

13,442

1,044

8%

South East

10,853

11,117

264

2%

England

11,184

11,524

341

3%

UK

11,456

11,817

361

3%

North's gap with London

-1,081

-1,937

-857

79%

Source: ONS (2022) Country and regional public sector finances, UK: financial year ending 2021