Levelling Up: Against a backdrop of ongoing uncertainty, it’s vital to focus on what we can achieve.
Since the much heralded ‘Levelling Up White Paper’ was released in February this year, it is fair to say we’ve had nothing but economic and political instability with soaring living costs, and the ongoing energy crisis through to the churn in UK government. The last eight weeks have been particularly challenging with reports pointing to the North South gap widening.
The Paper acknowledged ‘there has been no shortage of attempts to tackle geographical disparities’ but ‘these have been insufficient to close the widening gap’ in part because they have been ‘short-term’ and ‘lacked scale’. For some of those who have spent careers addressing inequality in their communities, one of the potential highlights of the Paper was it spotlighting that ‘system change is not about a string of shiny, but ultimately short-lived, new policy initiatives. It is about root and branch reform’. These kinds of statements positioned the policy as delivering long term, cross party
, commitment to addressing inequality through strategic responses that would outlive governments. This echoed feedback those on the front line have given for years about the challenges of delivering real change in a policy context driven by election cycles. However, the evidence of the last few months is that concerns from many - that the Paper lacked the detail and teeth to enable it to deliver this change in approach - were valid.
Built environment can play pivotal role
While only time will show how the political landscape settles, we know many of our public sector clients are having to draw on their experience of delivering through challenging times to think about how to shape their plans for the upcoming years. Through RLB’s work with combined, regional and local authorities, from advising on delivery strategy for quality affordable homes to connecting communities through forward looking urban design, we know as built environment consultants there is a huge role we can play. We are acutely aware that the buildings and associated, green, social and economic infrastructure are key to both how equal, resilient and sustainable our country will be, and we get to see first-hand how our clients find ways to continue to deliver for their communities.
One of the challenges many people raised about the way the initial Levelling Up funding was distributed was the sheer amount of time and effort needed when competing against other areas to secure funds. Should the uncertainty we’ve experienced over recent weeks continue into the winter, we know many of our public sector clients will have projects in pressing need of delivery that they’ll be looking to find ways to accelerate. Where innovative ways of delivering the change communities need can be found, we shouldn’t shy aware from sharing best practice and collaboration may enable more impact to be made. This collaboration may be increasingly important in driving progress in challenging times.
Focus on what can be achieved
While access to funding is critical for many projects, and political uncertainty creates huge challenges, we are seeing examples of public sector organisations finding ways to bring momentum and progress to these difficult times. Estate optimisation aimed at maximising benefits from built assets, whether through estate rationalisation or reuse, have already helped many clients. As they continue to deliver their sustainability and carbon targets many are revisiting this work to deliver better, smarter, greener facilities.
Clients are focusing on areas of delivery on frameworks that enable their projects to succeed. We are seeing clients putting plans in place to improve implementation of sustainability and digital strategies, making sure projects delivered in the future will support transformation in this area, and in doing so meeting criteria for other funding. Others are preparing for a world where we will see refurb and reuse of existing buildings increasing. They are thinking not only about what that means for their own projects, but also how development control functions will find the right balance between challenging and encouraging the private sector to do the same. Now is also the time to make sure plans are in place to implement the Building Safety Act, and to look ahead to changes that may come with the Procurement Bill.
The winter may involve navigating ongoing uncertainty. But focusing on what we can achieve and working together to not only identify the challenges but explore the solutions on how to prioritise communities and shift regional inequalities to support people and places has to be the way forward.
To learn more about levelling up, sign up to Public Sector Executive’s virtual event here