The item was introduced by Nigel Minns, who reminded members that levelling up was a key national priority. Work was now underway to shape a countywide approach to Levelling Up, which would be presented to Cabinet for approval in July.
Nigel Minns told the Committee that the Levelling Up White Paper had four objectives: to boost productivity, pay and living standards by growing the private sector; improve public services and spread opportunities, particularly in places where they were weakest; restore a sense of community and local pride; and to empower local leaders and communities. Additionally there were 12 national missions to help achieve these objectives; one of these was devolution. There would be a national measurement and accountability framework to monitor achievement of the objectives. The notion of levelling up was a long-term aim towards 2030 and beyond. The emerging countywide approach envisaged a dual focus on specific communities of place and communities of interest (particular cohorts and groups of people where levelling up would be most relevant) for levelling up.
Members were told the national Levelling Up missions, and how they would shape the policy for Warwickshire, were; to share the Council’s commitment to Levelling up with its communities; to complement everyone’s organisational plans and strategies; to influence current and future strategies; to recognise and build on the power of Warwickshire’s communities, partnerships, networks, and forums; and to inform the future collective work on devolution. Nigel Minns said this would complement existing strategies and help influence future strategies. The approach has been shaped through engagement with key partner organisations, and would identify targeted places, cohorts and priorities for levelling up that affected the whole county or certain places, including those at a hyper-local level.
Of the 12 national missions, three had been identified as being particularly relevant to the scope of the Committee. These were to significantly increase the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths; narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy; and increasing the number of people to have completed high-quality skills training.
Members’ attention was drawn towards the various existing strategies and areas of work and how they would link in the Levelling Up programme, and what funding streams were available. Some of these were very specific, such as the Nuneaton Education Strategy and the Tackling Social Inequality Strategy.
Six principles for levelling up had been identified. The first of these was to take a holistic approach and involve partner organisations. Nigel Minns said this was about levelling up Warwickshire; it was not a project specific to Warwickshire County Council and partnership working would be important in shaping the Levelling Up programme. Some of these partners would be from outside the county. The second principle was to take a long-term approach and improve things for future generations. The third principle was to identify root causes of issues, particularly the complex ones that created longstanding inequalities within communities. Nigel Minns said it was acknowledged that had this project been run 20 years ago then the same issues being identified now would have been the same then, which demonstrated that the root causes had not been adequately addressed. The fourth principle was to use the strengths of individuals, communities, places and interest groups to improve their quality of life, whilst not holding back other places or groups. Each area or group would have different strengths and it was important not to take a one size fits all approach. The fifth principle was to use data to monitor progress and evolve the approach to levelling up. The final principle was to prioritise the communities of place and communities of interest, which had been identified through the use of data, that needed the most support. Rob Powell said it was important to acknowledge there was no one size fits all approach to levelling up across the county.
A ‘working definition’ of what levelling up meant for Warwickshire had been created and four pillars to support it had been identified. These were increasing opportunities and social mobility; reducing disparities; building community power; and creating sustainable futures. Members were shown a diagram outlining how the 12 missions fitted in with each of the four pillars.
Members were told the Voice of Warwickshire residents’ panel had taken part in an exercise specifically relating to levelling up. It had been noted that levels of pride in local area were typically lower in Nuneaton and Bedworth than elsewhere, but levels of happiness were generally higher. In larger urban areas residents’ sense of ‘place’ was their immediate neighbourhood, whereas for rural residents it would be their village. The panel had identified access to health provision, levels of safety and the quality of high streets as its priorities for improvement. In addition to parks and open spaces, the panel had however also identified levels of safety as one of the three things that made them proud to live in their local area. There did not seem to be a link between how safe an area was and how important safety was to residents. The panel considered the three most important things for a great place to live as being parks and outdoor spaces, shops and local facilities and education provision/schools. Healthcare provision had been noted as an issue amongst residents living in rural areas.
Members’ attention was drawn to the evidence base that would be used towards shaping the strategy, such as indices of multiple deprivation and the results of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment’s State of Warwickshire report.
Councillor Pete Gilbert said there wasn’t anything in the report that could be disagreed with. However it was important action was taken and the report did not remain a series of platitudes. Councillor Gilbert said actions should be driven locally. He disagreed with the assertion levels of pride in Bedworth with low, stating pride levels should be tapped into to help develop the policies relevant to Nuneaton and Bedworth.
Councillor Brett Beetham said he represented one of the most deprived wards in the county, and stated that residents and children living there had been failed over the years. He said this had been caused by longstanding issues. Councillor Beetham said it was the job of elected members to get involved and make a difference, and not just to say they supported the proposed policy and be a tick in a box. He said some of the findings of the State of Warwickshire Report in respect of children’s educational attainment in Nuneaton and Bedworth were harrowing. Councillor Beetham said the aim should be to improve achievement and attainment in areas where it was poorer, rather than decrease standards elsewhere.
Councillor Brian Hammersley said Bedworth was traditionally an area where most jobs were in manual labour and there was still a desire to seek employment in those sectors. Referring to the three most important aspects for residents’ happiness, Councillor Hammersley suggested that having a job and an income was also key to making people happy.
Councillor Marian Humphreys said there was a lack of school places in the north of the county, and in her area all schools had lengthy waiting lists. She said during school holidays she would be inundated with calls from parents who had not obtained a place at their preferred school, asking when their child would manage to get a place. She stated this was due in part to the lack of Section 106 funding contributions from developers. Councillor Humphreys said the lack of school places was particularly affecting children who had special educational needs but were unable to access the education they required.
Nigel Minns accepted the point Councillor Hammersley made about low-skilled jobs, but stated many people in such employment were in low income households and in relative poverty. The issue that needed tackling was ensuring low skilled jobs did not necessarily mean low pay. Issues relating to attainment levels at school were down to sufficiency and quality of education. Nigel Minns said that although not everyone would be able to go to their first preference of school, that did not mean a child’s education attainment would be less if they attended a different school. Councillor Morgan said providing people with their first job opportunities was important for stimulating the economy.
Councillor Beetham said he would be interested in receiving a more detailed breakdown of responses to the Voice of Warwickshire survey. Noting in the report that town and parish councils would be engaged with as part of the strategy, Councillor Beetham said he lived in a district where there were no town or parish councils.
Councillor Gilbert said there was no provision for grammar school places for children in Nuneaton and Bedworth, despite an ambition for some. The Chair said he concurred with the view there was a desire for grammar school provision in the north of the county.
Councillor Jerry Roodhouse said the Devolution Working Party had met for the first time the previous day. He said the group had been told work was taking place regarding early years provision, but issues around attendance and attainment linkages had not been addressed when there was a requirement to do so. He said an NSPCC report released the previous week had highlighted an increase in the number of cases of neglect. Councillor Roodhouse stated his belief that making decisions by leading on issues was the best approach to take. He highlighted the priority families scheme as an example of a project that had done this well, as it had helped bring together services relating to pupil premium and free school meals. He added he had recently had a meeting with representatives of Warwickshire College, which ran a number of vocational qualifications, and they had asked to have an input into the Levelling Up agenda.
Nigel Minns said engagement with a number of partners was being sought. Regarding education he said the subject of grammar schools was a political issue, but on a factual basis he was able to confirm that it is currently against the law to establish a new one. Nigel Minns said he was unsure if there was a detailed breakdown of the Voice of Warwickshire feedback but said this could be circulated if it was available.
Councillor Jo Barker said she was a supporter of the new T Level qualification and said these could be a way of improving educational attainment for less academically-minded pupils. She stated her belief there was a perceived snobbery towards professions such as bricklaying and plumbing, even though there was a shortage of providers and people in those job areas were able to make a healthy wage. Nigel Minns said communities of interest – where there were groups affected by a common issue but were not bound by geography – was an area that had been highlighted as a priority. He said one community of interest was children living in a low income household.
Councillor Simpson-Vince said her ward contained a further education college that was within easy reach of many pupils, but there were insufficient secondary school places. Families were being impacted further during the current cost of living crisis as they were unable to afford either a bus pass to get their children to school, or the fuel to drive them. Councillor Simpson-Vince said it was important the strategies were worked on in full so money wasn’t wasted on schemes that it was later discovered did not work properly. Councillor Kerridge said it would be important to engage with as many community and social groups as possible and ensure they had the resources and investment needed to take part in the levelling up agenda. Nigel Minns said it was expected that more detail on how the strategy would be developed would be included in the full report that went to Cabinet. He said Community Powered Warwickshire was engaging with the different groups and this was helping to develop a coherent strategy.
Councillor Barbara Brown said there were some issues that the Council did not have a great deal of direct control over, or, in the case of schools, its control was diminishing. Councillor Brown asked what would be expected of the delivery of the strategy in 12 months’ time. Nigel Minns said more detail of anticipated timelines would be included in the report to July’s Cabinet.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe said the Levelling Up Approach was not a quick fix, but a strategy that would shape what it was hoped Warwickshire would look like in ten years’ time. It was important to ensure that what was hoped for was viable to achieve, with an aim to reduce inequalities and build opportunities.
That the Committee considered and commented as above on the proposed approach to Levelling Up in Warwickshire ahead of its consideration by Cabinet.