Covid-19 makes levelling up the North and Midlands harder, report claims

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

The promise of levelling up the North and Midlands has been made four times harder because of the coronavirus crisis, a new report warns.

The pandemic risks levelling down prosperous places in southern England, according to a study by the Centre for Cities.

The research group’s annual study of the UK’s major urban areas suggested that 634,000 people outside the South East now need to find secure, well-paid jobs to level up the country, compared to 170,000 in March.

The report warned of a possible “nightmare worst-case scenario” where levelling up becomes up to eight times harder, with 1.3 million people needing a job to level up areas outside the South East. This would increase the longer restrictions continue.

Birmingham is the city facing the biggest levelling up challenge, followed by Hull and Blackpool, said the report.

Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Covid-19 has made the government’s pledge to level up the North and Midlands much harder.

“It was promised on the assumption that places in the South would remain prosperous. Covid-19 has shaken this assumption, with cities ranging from London to Crawley now struggling.

“Levelling up the North and Midlands 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.”

Centre for Cities said Covid-19 has hit many previously prosperous places in the South disproportionately hard, and urged the government to act fast to prevent a levelling down of these places.

The report adds that once the health crisis ends, the government will need to spend more money on measures to level up, including on further education to train jobless people for good roles in emerging industries, making city centres better places for high-skilled businesses to locate, and improvements to transport infrastructure.