Still levelling up?

Billions could be spent, or perhaps wasted

Independent

Billions of pounds to ‘level up’ economy risks being wasted on white elephants, MPs warn

Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money earmarked for Boris Johnson’s flagship “levelling up” scheme risks being squandered on white elephants, an influential group of MPs have warned.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said spending money on major new infrastructure projects “must not become an end in itself”.

The prime minister has pledged to double down on his promise to level up the economies of the midlands and the north to bring them in line with the south of England.

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Can the government "level up" the UK, or will they waste money?

By Joe Harker

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the looming end of the Brexit saga sits the government's promise to "level up" towns and cities across the UK which have suffered from underinvestment.

It's part of Boris Johnson's plan to retain some of the votes which propelled him to an 80 seat majority in December, with the Conservatives winning many seats which used to form part of the "Red Wall" of Labour supporting constituencies.

Johnson acknowledged many people who voted Tory in 2019 had lent him their vote on a short term basis rather than gone Blue permanently, so leveling up the UK remains a key part of his manifesto.

The Claim:

Considering the economic damage done by the pandemic and the social change which has resulted, it looks like there isn't a finer time to try and boost the regions of the UK outside of prosperous London.

More working from home, less congestion in cities and reducing the size of crowds on public transport adds up to a greater need for leveled up regions.

Lots of jobs are going to be lost and there is a great threat of mass unemployment as there will be more people looking for work than there are jobs available, so it would help if there was more investment across the UK to create jobs and prevent the inevitable scenario of more people looking to London for work.

Local authorities across the UK are also in dire need of more money, as there are increasing warning signs that they are running out of money and about to go broke.

If the UK is to try and bounce back from the economic devastation of the pandemic then it would be better if that return was shared across the country instead of London enjoying the lion's share of prosperity as it has often appeared to do.

The Counter Claim:

However, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has warned the government that attempts to improve the UK risk wasting billions on projects which could end up becoming "white elephants".

Spending billions to boost the rest of the country outside the capital is all well and good but if that money isn't going to the right place then there's always a risk it'll go towards building things the regions don't really need or use.

The committee has warned that spending billions must not be an aim in itself, the government cannot invest in billions of pounds worth of new infrastructure that isn't going to be much use to anyone.

William Wragg MP, chair of the committee, warned the prime minister "we must move away from the short-term view that measures the value of major projects in terms of whether they are finished on time and at the expected cost".

He said the focus needed to shift to "how much they deliver the benefits they set out to achieve".

In other words, these billions worth of investments need to result in something that actually helps people, not just delivering a fancy new road on time and on budget.

The Facts:

The government is planning to invest around £640 billion on projects around the UK in the interest of leveling it up, though the actual definition of "leveling up" the UK still remains rather unclear.

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