The much-anticipated Levelling-Up White Paper was announced last week by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP.
In it, Mr Gove outlined the Government’s ambitions to address how some areas in the UK have ‘been left in a cycle of decline’.
Through 12 new levelling-up ‘missions’, Mr Gove says the Government will drive change into town and cities across the country so that ‘where you live will no longer determine how far you can go’.
Many have perhaps associated this Government commitment with certain locations across, in particular, the North of England and supporting their respective economic ambitions. It must however be remembered that levelling-up is not just applicable there, but also in places like Oxfordshire too.
We may be home to the world’s best university, underpinned by world-class sectors and businesses, but many locations in Oxfordshire also suffer from a variety of socio-economic issues that continue to cause difficulties.
Take Oxford alone – prior to the pandemic in 2019, the Index of Multiple Deprivation stated that 10 of the city’s 83 neighbourhood areas were among the 20% most-deprived areas in England.
Such deprivation ultimately leads to low skills and lower incomes. Now – coupled with the effects of COVID-19 and a cost of living crisis – further difficulties are almost certain to occur.
Creating opportunities and developing an infrastructure that addresses these challenges is something that, as a collective, we need to focus on in Oxfordshire.
Therefore, it is pleasing that the Levelling-Up Paper marked a watershed moment for Local Enterprise Partnerships, embedding organisations like OxLEP in policy agenda for the first time and setting the course for our future relationship with national and local governments.
It offers a clear affirmation of the role LEPs have played and builds on our recent achievements helping to – amongst many things – level up our own communities.
At OxLEP, this confidence is built around a track record of success and our commitment to creating opportunities for businesses and our communities across the county.
Since our launch in 2011, we have:
- Helped to secure around £1bn-worth of investment for Oxfordshire alongside our key partners
- Now reached a growth programme worth £3.1bn for Oxfordshire
- Overseen a Local Growth Fund programme that alone is on-track to enable a further £693m of additional funding that indirectly will support 7,791 jobs by 2025
In truth, people and businesses in Oxfordshire may not be able to namecheck us as an organisation, nor pin-point the major impact we have played over the past decade – but many would have likely benefited from our work and commitment to the county.
We have genuinely supported our businesses to be more effective, resilient, diverse, open up opportunities to young people and help them to support the decision-making as to where investment heads to in the county.
When the pandemic struck, our understanding of our business community and wider communities meant we were in a strong position to offer support. During the trickiest days of the 2020 lockdown, LEPs proved their worth with the ability to create and deliver economic recovery plans, armed with unrivalled local knowledge and insight, quickly and effectively.
Between April 2020 and August last year, supported through our Economic Recovery Plan, we:
- Engaged with 2,670 businesses and provided over 12,000 hours of support
- Committed over £2.24m of a business investment fund across Oxfordshire
- Helped to create or safeguard 1,267 jobs that may have otherwise been lost
We have continued to make investment available to support our economy over the past 12 months aligned to our economic recovery plan with projects such as; ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ – a programme that has the reinvigoration of our high streets at its core, the Green Construction Skills Centre, which will provide a pipeline of talent to support a more sustainable future, and the Activate Hospitality Suite, a facility that will directly support young people to discover careers in the tourism and hospitality sector.
As we move further into 2022, it remains important for us to work with you – the Oxfordshire business community – to continue to understand both the challenges and opportunities that you face, ensuring that our programmes give you the best opportunity to be productive and indeed, resilient given the continued challenges brought about by COVID-19.
The Levelling Up White Paper has re-affirmed the role of LEPs in the context of regional economic growth and provided a renewed direction as to how we can support our business community to recover effectively from the pandemic.
In the coming weeks and months, we will work closely with Government, our local authority partners and our private sector friends to continue to build on the momentum that we have already generated – and indeed delivered on – ensuring that our role as a LEP is one that can continue to be flexible and play a major, future role.