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Businesses across the UK are facing challenges. From trying to find the right skills for their workforce, to the need for greater investment in the local economy, and about how much they value their Chamber of Commerce.
Chambers of Commerce and their members sit at the heart of local economies across our country. They understand implicitly both the strengths and difficulties of their regional business context, and they are often best placed to know what solutions are needed.
When the government set out its four principles to underpin the levelling up agenda, neither the economy nor business were directly referenced
Levelling up isn’t anything new to us, it has been both an ambition and a deliverable for Chambers from the start. The very basis upon which our network which has operated for over 160 years has been trade and collaboration between regional partners, with the aim of benefiting local economies through business growth. As the only truly place-based business group within the UK, the principles which underpin levelling up are within our DNA.
Yet so far, when the government set out its four principles to underpin the levelling up agenda, neither the economy nor business were directly referenced. We look eagerly to the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper which is due at the end of this month after some delay. Unless it clearly sets out how government will stimulate prosperous business environments across our nations, regions, cities and towns, levelling up will remain little more than a slogan.
We must be clear that while there are national policy levers that government can pull, there is no “one size fits all” solution to a problem as complex as regional economic inequality. While greater investment in infrastructure and skills is a priority, other contributing factors and nuances which apply to these issues can only be fully addressed by giving those with the requisite local knowledge the tools they need.
Businesses tell us that what is desired locally is empowerment – via devolution of decision and funding to match – not more centralised policy making and a patchwork allocation of money from Whitehall. We believe that government needs to set a strategic framework for the distribution of funding for the levelling up agenda and then leave the decisions about how best to use it to those on the ground.
It is also imperative that levelling up takes place not just between regions but within them. Large inequalities exist between cities, towns and counties and these must be tackled in just the same manner as regional ones.
Chamber business members are clear that what will give the biggest boost to local economies across the board is to ensure that all parts of the machine hum to the same frequency, we must not reinforce intra-regional inequalities in trying to correct other imbalances.
Chambers stands ready to help government fulfil the promises of its levelling up agenda. Time and resources must not be wasted trying to duplicate the kind of links with communities that Chambers, Councils and other local organisations already possess. Our network can act as a ready-made pipeline to power up areas that have been left behind for too long by national economic policy.
The spirit of enterprise and ingenuity must drive the levelling up agenda if it is to be a success.
Shevaun Haviland is the Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce.
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