Levelling up the UK: building an agenda for the North

Published 19 September 2022

In February 2022, the UK government published its white paper ‘Levelling Up the United Kingdom’. The paper highlights some of the key challenges shared across the public sector and covers four broad areas: boosting productivity and living standards, spreading opportunities and improving public services, restoring community and local pride, and empowering local leaders.

We must level up locally to succeed

Essentially, ‘Levelling up’ is about people, and opportunities for wider communities and economies to benefit, grow and flourish. Within the private sector, we need to get better at harnessing the value of our investment for the good of the communities we operate within.  

Local focus is key to ensuring we achieve a level playing field, investing in places and their people to support sustainable, inclusive growth that creates the best opportunities for our communities. Social value and sustainability are vital to driving wealth-building activity that will continue to improve the lives of UK communities – now and in the future. 

How do we change the levelling-up dynamics?

Years of division between the North and South has created a culture of competition and secrecy between places. The way investment has previously been led has resulted in towns and cities bidding against each other, increasing the divide between neighbouring places in their fight for survival. 

So we must change the way we work. Instead of following policy and waiting for drips of funding, we need to work together and collaborate to redistribute prosperity across the UK. 

Progress driven through public-private partnerships

Public and private sector partnerships can alleviate constrained public finances and provide capital investment to deliver major projects and programmes that would otherwise be delayed. Take climate change – arguably the biggest challenge of our time but one where public and private sector actors can align their interests around a common goal. And the investment of capital and skills by the private sector can give public sector organisations the capacity to deliver on their green agendas. 

The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme is a key example. Clear Futures has worked with the in-house teams of multiple local authorities in the north west of England, providing support for funding applications that will enable them to decarbonise their existing estate. Following Round 1, we secured over £10m of Salix funding to deliver decarbonisation projects for three councils – Tameside, Stockport and Bolton – resulting in:

in financial savings
tonnes of carbon saved annually
tonnes of lifetime carbon savings

This work continues. We’re currently supporting more public sector bodies preparing funding applications for PSDS 3B that closes in September 2022 through estate data assessment, feasibility studies, site surveys, payback calculations and more.

And as a fully compliant procurement route and delivery vehicle, we have the capability to help the public sector successfully deliver these projects too.

Key outcomes: 

  • Providing local authorities with additional capacity and resource to accelerate their bid application to meet tight deadlines. 
  • Increased understanding within each local authority about the condition of their public sector assets. 
  • Comprehensive decarbonisation strategies and business cases for projects. 
  • Project and programme management support with a proposed vehicle and route to deliver. 
  • Green upskilling of local authority teams learning from private sector experts. 
  • Local growth and spend through local supply chain engagement to deliver projects. 

If we’re to deliver on the UK’s net zero commitments, local and national government must work together to create public-private investment opportunities which help the public sector press ahead with activities to achieve local net zero. 

The private sector has a responsibility to invest in places and local infrastructure

It is vital to Clear Futures that we have a positive impact in a place long after we have handed over a new facility or completed decarbonisation works across a public sector estate for instance. We want to see that we have delivered more than a project brief, such as creating employment opportunities for a young person or someone experiencing barriers to employment with their first step on the job ladder because we understand how vital that experience is.

Our partnerships also have set targets for local spend to ensure we keep public spend local and invest in local businesses and SMEs. In a recent Facilities Management contract we delivered to Bolton Council, over 80% of spend was within 15 miles of the town hall.

We strive to provide sustainable pipelines of work opportunities for local businesses so they have sight of upcoming work and the opportunity to grow. And we work closely with SMEs to expand their business, supporting them to develop their operations and access wider opportunities – through the likes of workshops with local businesses to engage them on work opportunities and supporting local organisations in their mission of driving inclusion and diversity within the construction industry.

Final thoughts

It’s not a one size fits all and our solutions need to be flexible and pragmatic to meet the constantly changing needs and opportunities across the public sector – every place will hold its own unique priorities, but through true collaboration and a joined-up whole systems approach we can enact the change needed to solve local challenges.

Instead of competing for funding, let’s work together to create public private investment opportunities that will unlock and drive value from public assets. Instead of leveraging our insights and knowledge regarding how best to understand our public sector estate – lets join up in our approach to reducing our carbon footprint so we can develop the best solution and reach net zero targets as sustainably and quickly as possible.

Richard Airey, Partnership Lead with Clear Futures

Richard Airey, Partnership Lead

Richard oversees all the general operations of joint ventures, working closely with our new participants.