Connectivity improvements among scarce levelling-up ‘bright spots’, report finds

A new assessment from think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that, in many areas covered by government’s levelling up agenda, the UK has actually ‘gone into reverse’

Improvements in digital connectivity have been picked out as one of only “a small number of bright spots” in the delivery of government’s levelling-up plans – progress on which has been largely “glacial”, according to a report from think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The study finds that, as shortly after the publication of the levelling-up whitepaper in February 2022, 61% of homes and offices outside of London has access to gigabit-capable broadband – compared with 85% of buildings in the capital. By June 2024, this had narrowed significantly to 90% in London, and 78% across the rest of the UK.

Coverage of 5G services – which, according to the IFS report, “was already nearly universal” in London – has also grown around the country: from 67% of premises in April 2023 to 78% by January 2024.

The digital connectivity goals set out by government constitute one of 12 core “missions” of the levelling-up agenda.

“If such rapid progress continues, the UK should be well on track to meet or exceed this mission,” the IFS concluded.

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But, in many other metrics across the other missions, the UK “has gone into reverse” in the last two and a half years, the think tank found.

Christine Farquharson, an associate director at IFS and an author of the report, said the levelling up white paper was “a substantial piece of careful thinking about the challenges of reducing regional inequalities in the UK, and should heavily inform the thinking of any future government interested in reducing inequalities between places”.

“In key areas such as employment, primary school attainment and self-reported life satisfaction, the country’s overall performance has got worse even as gaps between areas have widened,” she said.

Areas where the UK has lost ground include education, wellbeing and R&D spending, the IFS report shows.

PublicTechnology staff

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