Gillian Charlesworth 09 May 2022

Levelling up communities will not be possible without greater support for local authorities

Levelling up communities will not be possible without greater support for local authorities image
Image: Imran Khan's Photography / Shutterstock.com

Labour’s shadow minister for housing and planning, Matthew Pennycook, recently remarked that the decision to remove ‘Local Government’ from the responsible Department’s name, in favour of ‘Levelling Up’, shows that the Government has side-lined local authorities in favour of its signature manifesto pledge. Another way of reading the departmental name change was perhaps that levelling up is intended to be all about regions and localities across the country. It was therefore encouraging to see that local government featured heavily in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, unveiled in February.

The publication of the White Paper was the Government’s opportunity to define its levelling up mission by grounding it in real commitments, putting flesh on to the bones of this now familiar phrase. As laudable as the sentiments set out within the White Paper are, unless local authorities are equipped with a clear strategic direction and sufficient resources to drive improvement in their areas, levelling up the country is unlikely to become reality.

If the Government is serious about truly levelling up, it must place a holistic approach to local governance at the heart of its agenda – one which brings together plans for the fundamentals such as housing, health, connectivity, and net zero into one cohesive vision, delivering positive outcomes for people, communities, and wider society. What’s more, if such a strategic approach is taken, it should free up some of the much-needed resources by reducing current inefficiency and waste. We have some ideas and data to support this claim.

‘A holistic approach to local governance needs to be at the heart of the Government’s agenda’

BRE has welcomed the White Paper’s intentions for the built environment, particularly those designed to improve people’s wellbeing and standards of living by upgrading the UK’s housing stock. Our report, The Cost of Poor Housing in England, finds that poor housing costs the NHS some £1.4bn per year. When wider societal costs are included, this rises to £18.5bn every year, and unless a targeted effort is undertaken to improve the poorest housing stock, these social and cost burdens will continue. On the other hand, if realised, such sums could transform local economies as well as individual lives.

‘Improving the decency of homes in the private rented sector could be threatened by the rising cost-of-living crisis’

We now know that the Government plans to publish a white paper on the private rented sector which will 'consult on introducing a legally binding Decent Homes Standard [in this area] for the first time ever' – essentially, ensuring that homes are fit for purpose. This is an encouraging development, as the private rented sector has long had the highest proportion of cold, energy inefficient, high carbon homes. As energy prices rise and the UK faces a cost-of-living crisis, it’s all the more vital that this is urgently addressed to ensure that everyone can live in a warm, safe, and comfortable home.

‘Access to data will accelerate local authorities’ drive to net zero’

The White Paper also sets out new commitments to improve data provision for local government. One of the key challenges for local authorities in delivering low carbon buildings is access to accurate and up-to-date data on the building stock in their areas. BRE provides extensive support to councils in the collection and analysis of data, but there is clearly scope for more co-ordinated work by central Government to improve the availability and quality of data. With this in mind, we welcome the new independent body devoted to data, transparency, and robust evidence set out in the White Paper.

Important though these changes are, we need to see more detail on the clear support and direction that local authorities will be given to deliver the measures set out in the White Paper. Decarbonising both new and existing buildings is the most significant challenge to reaching net zero that local and regional administrations will face over the next thirty years. Disappointingly, given the urgency of the issue, the strategic questions about how they will do this remain unanswered in the White Paper. While the document identifies the strategic role that each level of government will play in delivering net zero, it fails to identify the specific roles and responsibilities that they will have to deliver net zero at scale. A decentralised, low carbon energy system is dependent on robust local and regional planning and delivery. To achieve this, the Government must define a clear set of devolved responsibilities and the White Paper missed an opportunity to do this. We will continue to press for clarity, resources and commitments that will be needed to address this enormous challenge.

Gillian Charlesworth is CEO of the Building Research Establishment (BRE)

Skate parks are not the only fruit image

Skate parks are not the only fruit

On Go Skateboarding Day, Susannah Walker asks councils and their leisure and park departments to think differently about what facilities they provide for teenagers.
SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Travel Information Data Technician

Essex County Council
Up to £25581 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity to work across all aspects of the Integrated Passenger Transport Unit (IPTU). Working with a passionate and dedicated England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Planning Strategy & Implementation Manager

Essex County Council
£57621 - £61410 per annum
Planning Strategy & Implementation Manager Permanent, Full Time £57,621 to £61,410 per annum Location
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Senior Accountant

Telford & Wrekin Council
£39,571 - £42,614
Are you a qualified Accountant looking to take the next step in your career? Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Family Assessment Worker

Telford & Wrekin Council
£25,419 to £27,514
We have a great opportunity for a full time Family Assessment Worker in the Parenting Assessment Team. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Neighbourhood Enforcement Officer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£23,023 - £24,920
The post holder will tackle environmental crimes and unlawful parking. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Partner Content

Circular highways is a necessity not an aspiration – and it’s within our grasp

Shell is helping power the journey towards a circular paving industry with Shell Bitumen LT R, a new product for roads that uses plastics destined for landfill as part of the additives to make the bitumen.

Support from Effective Energy Group for Local Authorities to Deliver £430m Sustainable Warmth Funded Energy Efficiency Projects

Effective Energy Group is now offering its support to the 40 Local Authorities who have received a share of the £430m to deliver their projects on the ground by surveying properties and installing measures.

Pay.UK – the next step in Bacs’ evolution

Dougie Belmore explains how one of the main interfaces between you and Bacs is about to change.