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Unlocking talent and skills to address Levelling Up

Many of us are familiar with the term ‘levelling-up’ but do we really know what it means? I have been tempted on numerous times to pose the question over dinner but always resisted!

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)1 found that on a wide variety of measures, regional disparities in the UK are greater than in most comparable countries and COVID-19 has amplified the injustice. I am encouraged there is appetite and focus from government to address this key challenge, but it is still not clear what specifically needs to be done to revive these areas. One thing that is clear is there needs to be a balance between a bottom-up and top-down approach and the true test to the success of levelling up will come from the positive experience and voices of the local people.

Recent Deloitte research – State of the State2 – brings an exclusive citizen survey with commentary built on interviews with fifty of the most senior figures in government and public services, supplemented further by business leaders working alongside the public sector. The findings of the research3 found the public believe skills to be the single biggest determinant for getting ahead in life. They see the region they live in as the fifth most important factor, suggesting that levelling up is as much, if not more, about people as place. The survey also illustrates how different communities – city, urban or rural – have different views on what local improvements look like. The interviews with public sector leaders found that many are already seeing their world through a levelling up lens while most believe that place-based improvements will require devolution of powers to local government.

Levelling up is more about people than place

The chart below4 explores the factors people believed define our opportunities in life. The findings show a complex set of perceptions about social mobility in the UK. Three in ten believe that our parents’ social class makes a difference, and almost a quarter think that a private education is a major factor. The fifth most significant factor is the region we live in. Continued investment in skills will be needed if government wants to reflect public expectations.

Public and private sector leaders agree on the need for continued reform of the skills system as central to levelling up. Both see the Skills for Jobs White Paper5 as a crucial step forward but leaders in further education, business and local government all want to see more done to align the system, so it works for all. Employers want a system that delivers the skills they need, college leaders want clarity on where accountability sits, and councils want the powers they need to make meaningful local choices.

One size of levelling up does not fit every place

As the Government continues to develop its levelling up programme, our research shows how city, town and village dwellers differ in what they want to see improved about where they live. Housing and jobs are high priorities regardless where you live. However, people in towns are more concerned about jobs and high streets compared to those in cities. Inevitably, people in villages want better local transport and telecommunications. These findings underscore how levelling up will require different interventions by place.

Local officials call for devolution to make it happen

While some commentators continue to debate definitions for levelling up, local public sector leaders are already using it as a lens through which to rethink their services. Officials across the sector argue that widescale devolution to councils will be a prerequisite for success.

What’s next?

The new relationship between government and business will be vital to build back better. The relationship between the two sectors was reset as they came together to deal with the pandemic. Both sides agree that they must deepen their partnership and collaborate as government alone will not be able to build back better and address levelling up.

While we await the much-anticipated white paper, leaders in any organisation – whether in the public or private sector – should continue to grapple with their organisation’s potential in levelling up. Many will already have significant impact on local jobs, the skills landscape, the local economy and the well-being of local communities. Identifying where that social value could be leveraged and engaging with partners to amplify their impact could go a long way to meeting the ambitions of levelling up.

  1. Geographical inequality in incomes has been falling, but wealth inequalities are rising - Institute For Fiscal Studies - IFS
  2. The State of the State 2021/22 (
  3. Public hopes UK will build a global reputation for science and tackling climate change | Deloitte UK
  4. The State of the State 2021/22 (
  5. Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth - GOV.UK (

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