Levelling up - how is culture, health and wellbeing connected to the new proposals?

Photo of two people shaking hands, with their hands covered in paint after an art workshop
Arts and Minds workshops in schools (Image courtesy of Sheila Ceccarelli)

In January 2022 the government released a Policy Paper called Levelling Up the United Kingdom. A response to the widening inequalities in the UK, the authors describe 'levelling up' as "a moral, social and economic programme for the whole of government". The paper sets out to describe a route towards creating "equal opportunities". It breaks down the drivers of levelling up into six factors:

  • Physical capital – infrastructure, machines and housing.

  • Human capital – the skills, health and experience of the workforce.

  • Intangible capital – innovation, ideas and patents.

  • Financial capital – resources supporting the financing of companies.

  • Social capital – the strength of communities, relationships and trust.

  • Institutional capital – local leadership, capacity and capability.

Much of culture, health and wellbeing work relates to social capital as it is described above. There is a great deal of human and institutional capital at play in our sector, too. Our business is about connecting people through their heads and their hearts to their purpose, and we have institutions that already invest in and help to build local community capacity and capability; we could do far more with more investment.

The paper describes the need for a new 'policy regime' to level up. One mechanism within this will be the devolution of powers in new mayoral areas; Greater Manchester could be seen as one example of improved collaboration across culture and health in a mayoral area (read more on that here).

Two specific statements relate to cultural funding:

Community-led regeneration cannot be achieved with a stop-start funding stream that first builds hope, then destroys it, leaving people less optimistic and trusting, and feeling more disempowered than ever. We will consider a Community Wealth Fund, financial inclusion and other social investment as part of our consultation on £880m in Dormant Assets funding, and focus lottery cash to reach into the most deprived small areas of the country. In this spirit of civic renewal, we will also ensure that access to sporting and cultural excellence is spread more equitably across the UK.

As we signifcantly increase cultural spending outside the capital, 100% of the Arts Council England funding uplift announced at SR21 will be directed outside London, with support for theatre, museums and galleries, libraries and dance in towns which have been deprived of investment in the past.

There is a strong lean towards private interests, with the paper reliant on private sector partnership in the delivery of levelling up. This includes via a £100m investment into three "Innovation Accelerators". These are "private-public-academic partnerships" based on the Stanford-Silicon Valley model with the ambition to bring research and allied industries together for the speedy adoption of innovation. The emphasis remains firmly on productivity (GDP) but there is a commitment to legislate "to put social value at the heart of government spending" in relation to procurement.

The Paper has come in for significant criticism from civil society. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, has criticised a lack of detail in relation both to targets, and to what funding will be made available. It suggests that without better prioritisation, "ambition and resource will be spread very thin." The Centre for Local Economic Strategies takes a similar line and describes the paper as "a scatttering of special projects". The New Economics Foundation has offered five proposals to add more strategic heft to the proposals:

  1. Mayors must be given new money to invest, and powers to raise local tax and take more control over economic decisions for their patch;
  2. This must be matched by a new focus on boosting incomes and expanding local services and facilities;
  3. We need a focus on sectors in the everyday economy like hospitality and care that make up 63% of all jobs;
  4. We must ensure greater support for SMEs; and
  5. We must go green with a £28bn a year investment package.

You can also read further analysis of the implications for charities and community organisations by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations here, who despite repeating similar criticisms, "think this is a strong foundation for further work with decision makers."

Read the White Paper here.

The Arts Council's own response is here.