Speaking outside No 10, he said this would be predominantly achieved through investment in healthcare, education, and technology. His ‘build, build, build’ philosophy has been reinforced by a commitment to huge infrastructure projects and the loosening of planning controls. However, there is a theory that – in an economic world increasingly driven by tech and ‘human capital’ – it is making locations attractive to people as well businesses which is the real key to levelling up.
In this respect, the case of a 3,000-year old settlement in Israel may be an unlikely but very relevant example of how to achieve levelling up.
By the end of the 20th century, the economy of Yokneam Illit – a place that in its time has been home to biblical kings, Romans and Crusaders – was reliant on two large factories which employed 90% of the city’s workers. However, when one factory closed down and the city had to also absorb a wave of Ethiopian and former Soviet Union immigrants, something was needed to stop economic collapse.
Instead of hoping for a business to come along and occupy the factory, the city’s government realised that Yokneam’s proximity to two huge and thriving universities in Haifa, and also the over-crowded and wealthy Tel Aviv meant that it had the opportunity to attract fresh talent.
So it converted the empty factory into hi-tech facilities and started to develop new homes. Whilst this largely conformed to the Boris Johnson philosophy, Yokneam also made itself far more family-friendly by giving free education for pre-schoolers and creating schools that have since become award-winning.
The city quickly became an attractive prospect for people who were itching to move out of big, crowded cities (sound familiar?). Soon the likes of Intel, Panasonic, Mellanox, and Marvell Technology Group moved to Yokneam as they saw an opportunity to plug-in to both facilities and people. The city is now home to more than 100 high-tech companies which have created a US$5bn economic hub.
The pandemic means that millions of people are fundamentally considering where they should live and work in the UK and so the opportunity to foster levelling up is undoubtedly there. It’s not that the Prime Minister’s ‘build-build-build’ approach is wrong, but perhaps he also needs to remember the needs of ‘people, people’ when it comes to levelling up the UK.