12 missions by 2030. The government unveiled its Levelling Up White Paper last week, promising ‘to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it’. The paper is centred around 12 quantified ‘missions': ‘cross-government, cross-society efforts’ to be achieved by 2030. Ambitions include raising pay and productivity in every region, narrowing the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between areas, and bringing the standard of local public transport connectivity across the country ‘significantly closer’ to that of London. (The full list of missions is here.)
Funding. A principal criticism of the White Paper has been the inadequate level of funding attached to its ambitious goals, and in particular the relatively small amounts of new funding announced. The New Statesman’s Anoosh Chakelian breaks down the sources of funds that Secretary of State Michael Gove has ‘begged, borrowed and stolen’ from other schemes.
Devolution. The White Paper promised ‘the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times’, including new powers for metropolitan mayors, and new county devolution deals across England. It sets out a ‘menu of options’ through which local authorities can effectively opt for one of three types of devolution. Jack Shaw of Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute explains.
Community covenants. On the same day as publishing the white paper, the Government responded to Danny Kruger MP’s report on the role of civil society. It committed to the idea of ‘community covenants’: pilot schemes in which councils, local groups and public bodies will enter into agreements in order ‘to harness the energy, know-how and assets of local communities’.
People, not places? The Equality Trust argued that the Levelling Up White Paper fails ‘to put people at the centre’. By focusing so heavily on places, the paper does not address inequalities within regions, such as the high levels of child poverty and inequality in London.
Housing. The Levelling Up White Paper included some new announcements on renters’ rights, such as bringing forward a ban on section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and exploring the possibility of a National Landlord Register. Shelter called this a ‘crucial step forward’ but said that the Government needs to set out a plan for ‘significant investment in social housebuilding’.
Net zero. The White Paper has been widely criticised for giving insufficient attention to the Government’s net zero ambitions. But the Conservative Environment Network’s Sam Hall argued that it demonstrates that levelling up and Net Zero are compatible, and that clean industries are critical for growth in industrial heartlands.
Energy price cap measures. Following steeply rising global gas prices, Ofgem announced that in April the energy price cap (the upper limit on the price which energy companies can charge consumers) will rise by 54%, increasing the average annual household energy bill for those on standard tariffs by £693 to £1970. This will affect 22 million households. For the approximately 4.5 million households using a prepayment meter, bills will typically rise by £708 to £2,017. In response, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced two principal measures to reduce bills: a £200 discount (effectively a loan) on bills this year which must be paid back in £40 annual instalments over the next five years; and a £150 grant for those living in homes in council tax bands A-D. In addition the Government confirmed a previously announced expansion in the eligibility of the annual £140 Warm Homes Discount to about 3 million households on low incomes.
A holistic approach to tackling the cost of living crisis. Positive Money’s David Barmes outlined 7 ways to respond to the cost of living crisis in a piece for openDemocracy, including the use of price controls to prevent profiteering, upgrading benefits to protect the poorest, investing in and directing credit towards green projects, stronger antitrust regulation and a wealth tax. (Twitter thread summary.)
MPC raises rates to 0.5%. Last week the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee voted to raise interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5%, pointing to “the current tightness of the labour market and continuing signs of greater persistence in domestic cost and price pressures”. Four of the nine members voted for a larger rise. Sky’s Ed Conway summarised.
Beyond the debt controversy. A new paper for the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity by Andrew Jackson, Tim Jackson and Frank van Lerven explains the debate between orthodox macroeconomists, who seek to limit public debt, and advocates of ‘functional finance’, who argue that a government which is able to issue its own currency can never run out of money. They make the case for greater flexibility in the use of fiscal and monetary policy, and better coordination between them, as the foundation for the post-pandemic recovery. (Twitter thread summary.)
Brexit Freedoms Bill. Last week No10 Downing Street announced that it would be bringing forward a new “Brexit Freedoms” Bill to fast-track changes to legacy EU laws without the need for primary legislation.
Economic crime. A report by Spotlight on Corruption’s Daniel Beizley and Susal Hawley calculates that corruption, bribery, money laundering and fraud costs the UK economy £290bn, more than 14.5% of annual GDP.
Regulating utilities. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy released a policy paper setting out the government’s vision for modernising the economic regulation of the utilities sectors. The paper will be followed by a consultation later this year.
Low job quality in key worker roles causing labour shortages. City & Guilds’ Great Jobs report finds that 50% of job openings in the next five years are expected to be in ‘key worker’ roles in sectors such as healthcare, social care, food production and transport and logistics. But only around 25% of the population would consider working in such roles, citing poor reputation and low pay as reasons. (The conclusions are congruent with Autonomy’s and PIRC’s findings that improving working conditions will be vital for tackling labour shortages.)
Shorter working week and gender equality. Women’s Budget Group released a policy paper from the Feminist Green New Deal project looking at the shorter working week as part of a green, caring economy. Paper authors Özlem Onaran and Robert Calvert Jump used time-use data from the pandemic and international case studies in order to understand the benefits of a shorter working week.
Sick pay and healthier work. A report by IPPR’s Parth Patel and Carsten Jung on the relationship between health and the labour market has found large income, age, class and racial disparities in access to sick pay. Among other recommendations it suggests using trade unions as public health institutions and rethinking active labour market policies to remedy work-related health inequalities.
Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill passed through the House of Lords last week in its 3rd reading. The Club of Rome’s Earth4All website explains how the Bill would “strengthen the ability of governing bodies to account for future generations’ needs and wellbeing” and sets out the wider context of ‘wellbeing economics’.
Have voters embraced a bigger state? In IPPR’s Progressive Review journal, Professor John Curtice explores public attitudes towards the size of the state. He finds greater support for higher taxation and spending now than following the financial crash of 2008. “That does not mean that in the longer term voters will necessarily accept the increased tax burden that now faces them, but for the time being at least, it seems that the current public mood requires a different approach from the one that was followed a decade ago.”