A document full of ‘hooks’ and opportunities
Firstly, I need to start by saying that this is not a White Paper that has been launched with a consultation opportunity, to directly respond to the content in its entirety. It is a framework, around which multiple opportunities for engagement and representation exist. This White Paper also does not come with any additional funding per se, however referenced within its contents are a review and considerations for the future delivery of the community ownership fund and other large scale funding opportunities for our sector, such as the Shared Prosperity Fund. These funds will support sector growth, which is to be welcomed and builds on funding awarded by Government in 2021 but ongoing influencing work is required to ensure the money reaches those communities requiring the most support.
Plunkett will continue to advocate on behalf of those already open and trading businesses; asking for there to be more support be made available for them, including access to funding, to support diversification, innovation and to grow operations. We do not expect that Government should be the sole source of funding for our sector however, so Plunkett will use the “Levelling Up” message to also underpin our influencing activities with other national funders, social investment organisations and those operating in the wider banking sector.
Whilst the predominant focus of the Levelling Up White Paper will be viewed through an urban lens, it is heartening to see reference to ‘rural proofing’ in the executive summary. All too often Plunkett Foundation, and our membership are faced with the assumption that living and working in the countryside comes without any challenges – and therefore the question of ‘why do we need to level up in rural areas?’ The reality is however that the countryside must remain available and accessible to all and to achieve this, investment and additional support is needed. It is not about simply placing rural areas on a par with identified ‘left behind’ communities, it about ensuring that any funding is directly targeted at addressing specific needs and used to create impactful opportunities in the countryside. We articulated a number of the opportunities for community businesses that we believe should be supported as part of levelling up in our Rural Vision document, published in the autumn of 2020.
Finally, when reviewing the document for the first time it should be noted that the Levelling Up White paper sets out a long term vision; it’s success will be judged by what change has occurred by 2030. This timeframe realistically means that the objectives included in this White Paper will run across multiple general elections and spending reviews (budgets). Without even considering any potential external factors that may also affect society in the next 8 years, the environment in which this White Paper sits will alter considerably over time. The monitoring and report processes, with a commitment to annual updated included in the paper, will be critical to ensure that this agenda remains current and relevant. Furthermore the White Paper delivery will need to do more to recognise and address the unique needs, challenges and opportunities which are relevant in the devolved nations.