Pandemic makes levelling up four times harder

Centre for Cities has argued that the coronavirus pandemic makes levelling up the North and Midlands four times harder and risks ‘levelling down’ the South.

The Cities Outlook 2021, Centre for Cities’ annual study of the UK’s major urban areas, found that Birmingham is the city facing the biggest levelling up challenge, followed by Hull and Blackpool. The government is being urged to act fast to prevent a levelling down of these places that the whole UK depends on to create jobs and fund public services.

According to the analysis, 634,000 people outside the Greater South East now need to find secure, well-paid jobs to level up the country, compared to 170,000 in March. As a result, the task of levelling up is now four times harder.

Centre for Cities says that the likelihood of a nightmare worst-case scenario where levelling up becomes up to eight times harder, with 1.3 million people needing a job to level up areas outside the Greater South East, increases the longer existing lockdown restrictions continue.

Since last March there has been an unprecedented rise in people claiming unemployment-related benefits in the Greater South East of England compared to the rest of the country. Almost half (43 per cent) of all claimants since then live in the Greater South East, despite it accounting for just 37 per cent of the UK’s population. Last March only 31 per cent of unemployment claimants lived in the Greater South East.

London’s, Crawley’s and Slough’s futures are among the prosperous places of concern due coronavirus’ potential long-term impact.

Centre for Cities says that Chancellor Rishi Sunak should announce how he will deal with pandemic’s short-term damage to cities and large towns. The plans should include: making permanent the £20 rise in Universal Credit; supporting jobless people to find new good jobs; and consider the merits of a renewed Eat Out to Help Out scheme for hospitality and non-online retailers once it is safe.

Chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Covid-19 will leave a lasting legacy. While the economic damage could be felt in many cities and towns for decades, it will be worse in places that the Prime Minister has promised to level up. The pledge to level up the North and Midlands was made on the assumption that places in the South would remain prosperous. Covid-19 has shaken this assumption, with cities ranging from London to Crawley now struggling.

“Levelling up the North and Midlands and stopping the South’s levelling down will not be cheap and will require more than short-term handouts. Government support and investment for new businesses in emerging industries will be essential, as will spending on further education to train people to do the good-quality jobs created.”

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