East of England looks down on Levelling Up agenda

The new Prime Minister will have to work hard to convince businesses in the East of England that the Levelling Up agenda is going to make a positive difference in the region, according to new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP.
The UK’s flagship domestic policy is the most recent take on decades of debate about how to rebalance the UK economy away from an overheated London and South East. Yet it attracts some scepticism from businesses in the East of England, in Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker* survey. It found that only 46% of senior decision makers in mid-sized businesses in the region thought that the Levelling Up agenda would help their local area – the lowest of any UK region and far below the national average of 68%.
Business leaders in the East also reported the lowest level of understanding regarding the aims of the agenda. Only 54% said that they understood what the agenda was trying to achieve, which compares to the national average of 69%.
This lack of understanding and engagement is reflected in figures that show only 54% of East of England respondents saw a role for a business like theirs in delivering the Levelling Up agenda. This is -19 percentage points (pp) below the country wide average of 73%.
The survey also explored which of the government’s 12 Levelling Up missions were most important to local businesses. The East of England’s mid-sized businesses identified improving people’s wellbeing (34%) as the top priority for the region, followed by improving people’s health (30%) and reducing crime, giving more power to local politicians and investing in the provision of high-quality skills training at joint third (all 26%).
James Brown, Partner and Practice Leader at Grant Thornton UK LLP in the East of England, said: “The rebalancing debate has always focused on a North-South divide, so it’s no surprise that business leaders in the East have low levels of engagement. That should be a concern for anyone tasked with delivering on Levelling Up. There are significant social and regeneration challenges here, which grow the further away you get from economic hot spots like Cambridge and Norwich. Our market towns, ports and coastal communities have a real struggle to be heard but they certainly have a role to play in driving the national economy forward. Some of the most exciting developments in clean energy, for example, are located on the East coast. Oil is a finite resource. The wind is not. So it follows that the East can also help future proof the UK economy from an energy perspective.
“We await to see how the UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund will play out, but the devolution of funding and powers can make a difference on physical regeneration and connecting places.  Here, as everywhere, transport is a key enabler of economic growth, so more investment is vital.”