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Getting Serious About Leveling Up

Beyond dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's main focus now seems to be on "leveling up" the United Kingdom's "left-behind" regions. But first he needs to level up his government's ambitious rhetoric and actual policy.

LONDON – Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech in Coventry about what seems to have become his signature policy initiative: “leveling up” the local and regional economies that have increasingly fallen behind that of London and the United Kingdom’s southeast.

Having previously chaired the independent commission that gave rise to Prime Minister David Cameron’s Northern Powerhouse plan, I remain heavily focused on the same goal. The original commission had looked into the disjointed pattern of urban growth across the UK. After we released our recommendations, I was invited by Cameron and then-Chancellor George Osborne to serve as the Northern Powerhouse minister in the Treasury; and since leaving government in 2016, I have been a vice chair of the independent Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Moreover, I recently became the chair of Northern Gritstone, a new private “patient capital” firm that will invest in start-ups emerging from northern English universities, primarily (but not limited to) those of Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield. While these institutions regularly rank among the top 200 in the world, they are located in low-productivity areas that suffer from a scarcity of fast-growing, high-earning businesses. That means there are ample opportunities for investment.

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