Open letter to Michael Gove


Sarah Longlands, Chief Executive of CLES, has today written to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, imploring him to level up the UK by bringing wealth home to communities and businesses.

As the Conservative Party Conference kicks off in Manchester, Sarah urges Mr Gove to consider three approaches to “making the most of the wealth and assets that already exist in the country’s cities, towns, villages and regions”.

Dear Mr Gove

Congratulations on your new role as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The emphasis of your government on tackling the deeply divided nature of our UK is welcome and we look forward to the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper later this month.

CLES is the national organization for local economies. Since our inception 35 years ago, CLES has championed the role of local economic development and shown just how important intervention at the local scale can be to build local wealth. Our experience has shown us that your ambitions to level up the UK can be realised by making the most of the wealth and assets that already exist in the country’s cities, towns, villages and regions.

Here are three ways you can help to make this happen.

1. Challenge perceptions of the local state

For too long, the UK government at Whitehall has undervalued the role of local government.

The legacy of austerity has left many areas struggling to provide even the most basic of services. I would urge you to challenge outdated perceptions of local authorities and recognise the excellent work they are doing throughout the UK to assist economic development in procurement, planning and business and skills support. In our work we see local authorities bringing partners together to support local economic recovery. For example, our anchor network in Birmingham brings together seven anchor institutions with a turnover of £5bn and a workforce of 50,000. Together they are exploring how they can support residents to secure jobs and progression post pandemic. Anchor networks also provide a means of delivering wider social and economic benefits from public procurement, particularly in a time of economic crisis.

2. Pass power down to level up

The process of levelling up the UK and dealing with long standing regional disparities will not be achieved from Westminster.

We saw through the early stages of the pandemic just how difficult it can be to drive through centralized, big box approaches to challenges on the ground. At the same time, local organisations – councils, schools and businesses – were able to use their local knowledge to assess these challenges and move quickly to work collaboratively and take action.

Westminster cannot move at the same pace and is thwarted by departmental structures which encourages competition rather than collaboration. If you want to make progress on levelling up in this parliament, then the only way to do it is to devolve power and resources to combined and local authorities and their partners. They know their communities best and, crucially, they can help to join up departmental priorities where they’re needed most.

3. Long term funding, not piecemeal pots

Our work shows that sustainable long term funding provides the best conditions for local economies to thrive.

We would urge you to move away from the piecemeal, small grants funding approach which your department has used to date. Instead, invest for the long term in a programme of revenue and capital support for economic recovery which brings together the existing pots of funding and devolves them to combined and local authorities. The implementation of this approach should prioritise collaboration with the public, private and social sector, drawing inspiration from the community partnerships model in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We look forward to hearing more about your forthcoming plans for levelling up at the conference and, in the meantime, should you wish to discuss any of the points raised above, please do get in touch.

Yours sincerely

Dr Sarah Longlands
Chief Executive , CLES