The Government’s promise to ‘level up’ the North West by reducing regional economic disparities will be almost four times harder as a result of the pandemic, and Blackpool faces the biggest challenge, according to a report.
Think tank Centre for Cities’ annual study of the UK’s major urban areas found that 129,900 unemployed people in the North West’s towns and cities need to find secure, well-paid jobs to improve the region’s overall economic prospects. This compares to 37,000 last March before Covid-19 hit.
Blackpool – which faces the third largest levelling up challenge in the whole of the UK, according to Centre for Cities’ report – requires a 6.5% reduction in unemployment to build and improve the economy.
Liverpool, Blackburn and Manchester also face significant challenges in levelling up, requiring unemployment rates to drop by 5.8%, 5.2% and 5% respectively.
Burnley, Wigan, Birkenhead, Warrington and Preston also face a stark challenge in levelling up as they strive to recover economic resilience as the pandemic persists.
The think tank’s Cities Outlook 2021 report calls for improvements to adult education provision in the North West, more investment in city-region transport infrastructure, and improvements to the region’s town centres so that they are better places for high-skilled businesses to locate, in order to prevent a ‘levelling down’ of the region.
Other measures the chancellor should consider to deal with Covid-19’s short-term damage to towns and cities include:
- making the £20 rise in Universal Credit permanent
- supporting jobless people to find new, quality jobs
- introduce a renewed ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme for hospitality and non-online retailers once the health crisis abates
Centre for Cities’ chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Covid-19 has made the Government’s pledge to level up large cities and towns of the North West much harder. It was promised on the assumption that places in the South would remain prosperous, but Covid-19 has shaken this assumption.
“Levelling up the North West and stopping the South’s levelling down will not be cheap and will require more than short-term handouts.
“Government support and investment for new businesses in emerging industries will be essential, as will spending on further education to train people to do the good-quality jobs created.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his intention to boost economic performance outside London and the South East by “levelling up” the country and reviving its “left behind” towns and cities, in his first speech as prime minister in 2019.