OPINION: The Tories’ flagship “levelling up” policy exposed as empty rhetoric as Northampton falls further behind

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Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Northampton North

After it was announced earlier this month that all Northampton's bids for levelling up funding have been turned down, new data from Bloomberg confirms that "levelling up" is failing to deliver for our town.

The concept of “levelling up” rightly recognises that the UK is beset by significant regional inequality. London and the South East fare far better than other regions of the country when it comes to pay, prosperity, government spending and other indicators of economic health.

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The promise to “level up” was made in the Conservative manifesto at the last election but unfortunately for us here in Northampton, in the years since, that pledge has been exposed as entirely hollow.

Lucy Rigby at The RacecourseLucy Rigby at The Racecourse
Lucy Rigby at The Racecourse

When the outcome of the latest round of funding bids from the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund was made public earlier this month, it became clear that precisely no new funding is coming to Northampton, meaning that much-needed projects, such as the new Weston Favell community hub and the cancer care centre at NGH, received nothing. In the meantime though, Rishi Sunak’s own constituency won £19 million.

The feeling that we’re missing out was confirmed by new figures from global data group Bloomberg which show that levelling up is failing to deliver for Northampton.

Bloomberg measure all 650 parliamentary constituencies across the UK against the Government's own levelling up targets. In 2019, Northampton North was behind London and the South East on average monthly salaries, total government spending per head and spending per head on transport and productivity. Using data up to December 2022, Bloomberg show that in all these categories Northampton North either remains behind or the gap is actually getting worse.

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On four further measures (the proportion of adults on universal credit, home affordability, total crime and well-being), Northampton North was previously ahead of London and the South East but Bloomberg's data now shows that either no improvement has been made in the last 3 years or London and the South East are actually catching up with Northampton.

Little of that will come as a surprise to the hundreds of residents I’ve spoken to over recent months. People are rightly angry about what’s happening to our public services, the chronic underfunding of our schools, the queues outside NGH, failures to tackle violent crime, the state of the roads - I could go on.

Despite the rhetoric, so-called “levelling up” just isn’t working for Northampton - in fact, in a number of key areas, we’re going into reverse. That all bids from the Levelling Up Fund were dismissed adds insult to injury.

The tragedy of course is that there really is so much we can do to improve our town and bring in the good jobs, investment and prosperity that we need. Northampton is a great place to live and work and, with the right strategy, investment and drive, we can make it even better.

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What we need though is to stop this Hunger Games-style contest with other towns and cities and the empty promises, which, ultimately, aren’t delivering for people here in Northampton and erode faith in politics. Here in Northampton we deserve better.

For full figures by constituency and methodology please see: UK Levelling Up Scorecard: Only 6% of Constituencies Improved Since May 2022 (bloomberg.com)