Blog Post

Levelling up and London, according to Andy Haldane

Andy Haldane joined Linda Yueh, Centre for London and the Policy Institute at King’s College London to discuss what levelling up means for London. Research Manager Josh Cottell was on hand to report.

Last week Centre for London hosted Professor Andy Haldane, recently announced as Chair of the Government’s Levelling Up Advisory Council, to discuss what levelling up means for London. In conversation with Dr Linda Yueh, Andy shared his views about the important challenges facing London and the UK, and how the Government’s levelling up agenda can address these.  

Much of the discussion focused on what Andy thought a levelling up agenda ought to aim to achieve. He suggested that rather than seeking to redistribute resources between different parts of the country, levelling up is ‘all about expanding the pie.’  

When pressed on this by an audience member asking whether arts and culture funding would be diverted from London as part of the levelling up agenda, Andy clarified that in some cases it will be. He said that the budgets of some government departments had historically been tilted towards London, and that while ‘some re-tilting is now underway,’ he hoped that funding would not be directed away from London where doing so would ‘make a bad situation worse.’ In other words, Andy said, he hoped that ‘this wouldn’t be redirecting loads of money away from local projects serving local communities with people who aren’t well off or have huge access to alternative means of arts and culture – that would definitely be the wrong way to go.’ 

Andy also told the audience that levelling up ‘is a national economic plan led locally rather than centrally.’ One of the major commitments in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper is to allow local areas in England to apply for greater powers to be devolved to them from central government. Andy shared his view that local leaders – in London and elsewhere – should be granted more powers not only over their spending, but also over their ability to raise taxes.  

Of course, local areas’ needs depend on the nature of their populations and London is changing. Earlier last week the first tranche of results from the 2021 Census was released. The data tells us about how the population of the UK has changed over the decade from 2011 to 2021. Overall, London’s population is now 8.8 million, which suggests it has grown by 8 per cent over the past ten years – faster than the UK population has grown. However, the story is different in different parts of the city, with the population growing strongly in some boroughs and falling in others. 

London is home to areas which saw the highest population growth in England, but also areas which saw the biggest fall in their population. Meanwhile, the composition of some local populations in London have also diverged. For instance, as Trust for London has shown, the proportion of people who are of an age when they are less likely to work (under 20 or over 65) has risen substantially in some areas while falling in others. This may lead to changes in where poverty is concentrated across London. 

When asked how London fits into levelling up, Andy said that it ‘is absolutely not an agenda of levelling down, or of city versus town.’ He said that levelling up is not about comparisons between regions, citing the extreme affluence and deprivation that sit alongside one another even in small geographic areas. Until more data from the Census is released, we won’t know exactly how this picture has changed since 2011. In the meantime, we can be confident that London, as elsewhere, will continue to need levelling up.  

Josh Cottell is Research Manager at Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.