Levelling Up must mean more than London Levelling Down
After discussing whether Levelling Up answered the right question and the importance of culture during a recent roundtable hosted by Freeths in London, the conversation moved to how we have to be honest that Levelling Up needs to mean more than Levelling Down London
Similar to Newton’s laws of motion, for every positive there is an equal and opposite reaction and the panel were clear that the Government’s commitment to the regions must not be to the detriment of the capital.
Simon Pearson, regional head at Cazenove Capital noted that it’s important to be aware that Levelling Up won’t be “successful unless it benefits everybody”. He added that “rather than being a zero-sum game where things are just shifting from one place to another” which will lead to resentment, competition and a greater divide he hopes to see a more “collegiate approach”.
The idea of regions working together and with London was something Allen Simpson, MD of strategy and operations at London and Partners welcomed and was something he said the top destinations were already doing.
He noted that Manchester was already working with his organisation on missions.
“If we’re talking about Levelling Up and everywhere, I would really focus on giving all the regions agencies as good as Manchester Growth Company.”
Simpson described the loss of RDAs in 2012 and the move towards Local Enterprise Partnerships as a major issue as it saw the loss of a strategic agency for a region.
Looking ahead he noted that there “are bits of the country who we absolutely want to work with, where there is an economic opportunity but there is no obvious organisation to support this”.
The solution he says is to “properly fund the regions to work together”, he suggests the possibility of sharing back office functions, the concept of conducting collaborative trade missions – something London and Partners has been doing with the Manchester Growth Company – and even sign posting businesses between regions.
“If somebody comes to me and says ‘I’ve got a business and I want to come to London’ and we look at it and think ‘I wouldn’t, go to Leeds as that’s where you want to be’, we have the mechanisms to do that, but we can’t unless everywhere in the country has a really good agency to work with as otherwise it’s just opening a window and shouting at the sky.”
The talk of well-run regional organisations to support trade and investment activity leads to the question from Nick Lee, head of regulatory affairs at OakNorth Bank as to why if the London and Partners model and the Manchester Growth Company models work this isn’t replicated to collectively market the UK.
Allen notes that it is the Department for International Trade’s job but that the challenge of having a properly funded local agency which knows its patch and has shared functions in much the same way as professional services firms do with offices the work would be “much more powerful”.
He added “I’d rather see government money go to the Manchester Growth Company than the Department for International Trade.”
So with all bar one of the participants of the roundtable being part of organisations which operate a hub and spoke model where there are some shared functions and a unified culture but also regional offices and as a result local knowledge, it was interesting to hear them discuss whether the public sector perhaps had more to learn from the private sector.
Lee said: “I absolutely think you bring in the private sector knowledge, expertise, drive is what’s needed and you do that in collaboration with government funding and private sector funding.”
He added that often it’s the kind of “innovation and creative thinking” found within the private sector which can hopefully deliver a real impact.
Alice Dockar, partner at Freeths added that it’s important to realise some of this is already happening particularly through the real estate sector.
“A company invests in a building in a town or a city whether in London or the regions and that investors wants to invest in who the occupiers are going to be and the community around it.”
Another challenge to Levelling Up highlighted in the discussion by Nick Whitten from JLL was the fact that “most of the major cities in the world now have more in common with each other than they do perhaps with their own domestic markets. Arguably a lot of people in London do more business with New Yorkers or people from Hong Kong than perhaps people from Stoke.”
This challenge was also raised by Cyril Aboujaoude, founder of Tioopo Capital when he talked about the challenge for people like himself who have come from overseas engaging with UK regions which aren’t necessarily as international as London.
Ultimately Simpson hit the nail on the head when talking about Levelling Up and whether it posed a threat to London.
“We have to accept that [Levelling Up] is levelling down London to an equal and opposite amount. That’s fine and a legitimate policy decision. But let’s call it that and figure out what to do about both sides of that P&L.”