Levelling Up: Bristol and ‘pockets of deprivation’ in south being overlooked, mayor warns
‘Our concern is that levelling up is being couched in terms of geography’
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As the focus from yesterday’s announcement appeared to be on narrowing financial gaps between the north of the country and London, Mr Rees said efforts to tackle inequalities in Bristol must also get support.
The Levelling Up White Paper aims to allocate funds to improve areas that need investment and reduce inequality between regions in the UK.
In total, 12 ‘missions’ have been set which cover issues such as pay, employment and local public transport.
Also included is 20 new urban regeneration projects.
But while cities such as as Sheffield and Wolverhampton will benefit from ‘King’s Cross style’ regeneration projects, Bristol seems to have missed out on an investment boost.
This includes a £100,000 commitment from the government to the Temple Quarter scheme that was expected to materialise as part of today’s announcement.
‘Pockets of deprivation’ in south at risk of being left behind
Speaking at a press briefing, Mr Rees said that 41 areas of the city were in the 10% most deprived in England and six areas were in the 1% most deprived, yet Bristol was still seen as a wealthy city and had perhaps been overlooked due to its location.
He said: “On Levelling Up, there’s a heavy emphasis on geographical inequalities between the north and south in this country.
“We recognise that, we will not undermine that. But if you don’t take account of the fact that there are some people groups who get left behind irrespective of where they live, you’re going to have a problem.
“You’re going to leave behind those pockets of deprivation in the south. You may get investment moving up north, but unless you address the specific characteristics of these people groups, they’ll get left behind as the northern economy starts moving anyway.
“Our concern is that ‘levelling up’ is being couched in terms of geography and hides a political framework for making a decision on where investment goes as well.”
Inequality ‘a feature of Bristol life’
Mr Rees said that while Bristol was perceived as a ‘wealthy’ city with top-class universities and a progressive culture, inequality was ‘still a feature of Bristol life’.
“When you go up to Clifton, it’s near to 100% of teenagers going on to higher education there, in some parts of south Bristol it’s in the single digits,” he said.
“We have a fantastic story to tell the outside world. But the Runnymede Trust a number of years ago identified Bristol as the seventh worst city to be black in, and one of the worst cities to be born in because of that social immobility.
“That’s what we’re contending with as a political leadership.
“I think the dial has shifted. I’ve lived here not just as a mayor but as a person, and I’ve never known a city talk about inequality to the extent Bristol has in the last four or five years.”
The Levelling Up plans also aim to narrow the life expectancy gap between local areas by 2030, and increase life expectancy across the UK by five years by 2035.
Studies have shown that you can die up to 10 years younger in Bristol, depending on where you live in the city.
Mr Rees said cutting the life expectancy gap was ‘achievable in Bristol, but it will take investment’.
“We know what improves health. Good nutrition, a warm home, good education,” Mr Rees.
“Health is determined by social policy, more so than it is by health services.
“So if you have good social policy and good social surroundings, you improve health by definition and people will live longer.”
What the government say
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story.
“We have one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies. Ours is the world’s most spoken language. We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country other than America.
“But not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.
“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.
“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”