Roadmap for recovery - levelling up the UK

How the financial and related professional services industry can support the delivery of the levelling up agenda.

“Levelling up” was an ambition set out by the Prime Minister within days of taking office. Almost two years later, as the UK recovers from the pandemic, meeting the challenge of rebalancing the UK economy and bringing prosperity to left-behind areas has an even greater urgency and political relevance.

The economic impact of Covid-19 has exacerbated many of the issues that levelling up broadly takes aim at, and this agenda needs to be the lens through which government seeks to address the wider recovery challenge facing the UK.

The UK’s financial and related professional services industry is a national asset, with two thirds of its 2.3 million employees based outside London. It makes a vast contribution across the UK’s regions and nations, and is already helping to level up the UK with the highly specialised jobs it delivers, the talent it nurtures and the transformative investments it makes across the economy.

The industry’s positive local impact is explored below, along with considerations on how the levelling up agenda can be given greater clarity and rigour to ensure that its ambition is fully realised.

Prioritising people and nurturing talent across the UK

There are 21 towns and cities across the country where more than 10,000 people are employed by the financial and related professional services industry. These people are doing specialist, highly skilled jobs, supporting the operations of some of the largest companies in the world.

Local talent is nurtured through strong partnerships between industry, education providers and local leaders to better equip the workforce with skill sets for the future. The acceleration of flexible and remote working trends has also seen many firms taking a leading-edge approach to training and development.

Driving transformation and delivering sustainable solutions

The industry was driving transformational changes across the UK even before Covid-19. Its capacity for investment has underpinned the roll out of major projects across the economy that have boosted connectivity, strengthened infrastructure, and regenerated urban centres.

In the context of post-pandemic economic rebuilding and renewal, the industry must continue to act as a strategic enabler that can support the delivery of forward looking projects across the regions and nations. By prioritising sustainable investments and technological transformation, it will be at the vanguard of the recovery.

Empowering local leaders and places

Levelling up will mean different things in different areas. So, while the industry has the capacity to support the delivery of high-quality jobs, skills offerings, efficient connections and new infrastructure, it will also need to demonstrate how it can integrate with and support local leaders’ aims and objectives.

We feed in industry perspectives at a local level through our focused Regions & Nations Programme, led by our network of regional City Chairs. Our aim is to promote the strength and opportunity of the financial and related professional services industry across the UK and to empower local leaders to deliver high impact place-based strategies for the areas they represent.

Meeting the challenge

Our Roadmap for Economic Recovery report includes a chapter focusing on levelling up, with a series of recommendations aimed at guiding its delivery. First, it calls on government to give the concept greater rigour, with a clear definition and metrics for success. We’ve seen some progress here already, noting in particular the government’s appointment of Neil O’Brien MP as chief adviser on levelling up, with a brief to bring clarity to the project.

Our report also makes the case for a cabinet minister to take specific responsibility for levelling up, and to lead a dedicated civil service delivery team. The government has since created a cross departmental Levelling Up Taskforce, which represents good progress, and we look forward to the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper later this year for more positive steps in the right direction. 

Finally, we are keen to see more empowered local leaders, and to support their local growth strategies with local insight. By creating dedicated forums for industry representatives to engage, channels can be established to identify where the private sector can support the delivery of local initiatives.

Richard Kelly 
Senior Manager, Regions & Nations, TheCityUK

For more on this subject, and other issues important to driving a post-pandemic economic recovery, read: A roadmap for economic recovery: The role of financial and related professional services