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expert reaction to UK Government’s Levelling Up white paper

The Government have released their white paper on Levelling Up, which includes plans for R&D spend and health disparities amongst other topics.


Prof Sarah Main, Executive Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said:

“This investment represents the proportional share of planned R&D increases already announced by the government. It won’t alter the current balance of R&D investment but it will ensure that new R&D money is invested across the UK.

On the importance of R&D in levelling up:

“It’s heartening to see government recognise R&D as a vital factor in growth and prosperity for all parts of the UK. It’s also right that R&D investment should be considered alongside a broader package of measures involving skills and infrastructure to maximise local economic growth.

On excellence:

“From our work we know that investing in excellence that exists, no matter how small or nascent, is the most effective way to build R&D strength and capacity. We look forward to the Government setting out the details on how it will take geographic location into account when making investment decisions: consideration of geographic investments should be made on basis of careful criteria, including existing R&D excellence, to yield greatest impact.

On local leadership:

“Local leadership is vital in bringing together business, academic and civic expertise to maximise the effectiveness of R&D investment in promoting local economic growth. The Government has recognised the importance of local leadership in the white paper, now it must say what policy levers it will provide local leaders to maximise the local impact of innovation funding.

On infrastructure:

“Infrastructure investment is an important catalyst for research and innovation growth. The Shared Prosperity Fund must retain R&D and innovation infrastructure as a core purpose.

On education in schools:

“We know that provision of quality science education is patchy, with significant issues attracting and retaining science and maths teachers, particularly to schools in disadvantaged areas. As part of its levelling up strategy, the Government should re-double its efforts to ensure that high quality education and experiences in science and innovation are made available to all children.”

Note to editors: CaSE’s initial analysis shows that the R&D investment target contained in the white paper (a one third increase in spending outside the Greater Southeast by 2024/25) will maintain the current R&D distribution across the UK.


*NEW COMMENT* Bridget Turner, Director of Policy, Campaigns and Improvement, Diabetes UK, said:

“Levelling up living standards is essential to enable people to live healthier lives and reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes. It’s not acceptable that the greatest burden of diabetes, and the harm the condition can cause, falls on our least affluent communities. In England, the prevalence of diabetes is over twice as high for people living in the lowest income households compared to those with the highest incomes.

“While we welcome the proposals published in today’s Levelling Up White Paper, including the commitments to reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy and implement some of the recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s review towards a National Food Strategy, the Government must go further and work faster to solve the root causes of poverty. Addressing this is also crucial to reducing the growing number of people in deprived areas living with overweight and obesity.

“The Government must urgently bring forward the White Paper on Health Disparities. This must include a cross-government strategy that focuses on addressing the social determinants of health – that is the conditions in which we live, grow and work – to address the worsening health inequalities being experienced by our poorest communities. This is essential if we are to turn the tide of rising numbers of people living with type 2 diabetes.”


Prof Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“The Government rightly recognises the importance of addressing the health inequalities that have been exacerbated across the UK during the pandemic and, as part of this, the essential role that health research must play in regenerating the nation.

“The Academy urges the Government to ensure that its intended ‘Health Disparities’ White Paper is underpinned by a research-led and evidence-based approach, involving people and communities affected by health inequalities. This must include multidisciplinary approaches to understand the wide determinants of health, from biological through educational and environmental, to ensure that interventions have the best chance of reducing the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy.

“Research and innovation is pivotal to improve individual patients’ health and raise the standards of health across the nation. Expanding research infrastructure across the UK, including in the NHS, will also drive regional growth and can create new skills, jobs and career opportunities.

“In the context of rising public investment in research and development, the promise to capitalise on research excellence across the UK by spending a greater proportion of these funds outside the Greater Southeast area is good news. However, this will only work effectively if investment is informed and driven by local expertise – organisations such as the life sciences clusters will be critical to directing these funds to existing and emerging excellence.

“Ultimately, achieving the dual aims of levelling up and addressing health inequalities will require joined up approaches across national, regional and local geographies. Maximising the power of a wide range of health research disciplines to contribute to these agendas requires researchers across the country to be able to collaborate widely, be part of effective networks in their local communities and have access to adequate funding.

“As a national Academy we continue to work across all regions of the UK and will be establishing cross-sector regional hubs to connect health researchers locally, help them to build expertise to tackle local health needs and establish research collaborations that will address the health inequalities that are holding back our society.”


Prof Sir Adrian Smith PRS, President, Royal Society, said:

“Levelling up requires high quality jobs and the people with the skills to fill those jobs. The focus on these issues in today’s white paper is welcome but the words are easy to say – it is the delivery that the government will be judged by.

“Investment in research and innovation is key to long term economic growth and the UK has outstanding universities, research institutes and innovative businesses all over the country. As regional anchors, they have a clear role to play in driving productivity and skills and improving people’s lives and opportunities. Today’s white paper recognises this and that is welcome, but the investment needs to be new and not just a repackaging of old money. We also cannot afford to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ by investing in some localities at the expense of world-leading research in already hugely successful research clusters.

“The Levelling Up White Paper rightly identifies education as a priority, but investing more money in a system that is not fit for purpose will not fix our problems. Our current education system is too narrow and is not giving enough young people, especially those from more disadvantaged communities, the skills they need for today’s workplace.”


Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng, President, Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“Engineering is essential if we are to pivot the UK towards a more sustainable and inclusive economy and level up areas of regional economic disparity. Reinvigorating economic prosperity across different regions of the country depends on both on engineered infrastructure, and the crucial engineering skills and innovation that make this (and many other technologies that benefit society) possible. We welcome the strong and clear priority attached to R&D and innovation, including through the R&D mission, and we will work with others to encourage the maximum leverage of private sector investment to stimulate innovation and a more inclusive economy. The commitment to better quality and more granular spatial data and the importance attached to skills is also welcome.

“As Vice Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, I am pleased to see a new Innovation Accelerator announced for the city of Glasgow. I have seen first-hand how research and innovation has helped transform areas of Glasgow and the City Region that had seen significant socio-economic challenges. I therefore encourage a continued focus on innovation endeavour to transfer the strength of our research base across the UK into technology, engineering and high-value manufacturing, to the benefit of local communities.

“The Royal Academy of Engineering is working hard to leverage research and innovation to drive economic growth across the UK. Our Regional Talent Engines programme aims to support retention and development of engineering talent within local innovation ecosystems and help ambitious and technically minded individuals to upskill, gain confidence and launch new careers as entrepreneurs. We have just launched this programme in Northern Ireland, north west England, north east England, and Yorkshire and Humber. Long term, we aim to support new business and job creation in regions across the UK and develop a community of successful engineering entrepreneurs across each region.

“In 2020 we launched the Lord Bhattacharyya Engineering Education Programme, a regional programme in partnership with WMG Warwick that provides engineering-focused STEM education support for students and their teachers to inspire the next generation of innovators in the West Midlands, and we look forward to linking this to the investment in this area announced today.”


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it. As such, our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared – instead, they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

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