Levelling up the North ‘must have a more surgical approach’

The commission’s report sets out a damning picture of the impact of Covid on the poorest regions of the UK

Ministers need to take a surgical neighbourhood-led approach to “levelling up” ambitions in order to tackle rampant post-Covid inequalities, senior business leaders have warned.

The first report of the new Covid Recovery Commission, led by Tesco and Barratt chairman John Allan, also pressed for the Government to devolve more powers to local politicians and mayors to address already deprived areas now bearing a disproportionate brunt from the pandemic.

Despite ministerial focus on “red wall” seats, the commission also warned that addressing broad geographic areas like the North was unlikely to pay dividends.

It stressed more than half of people living in the 10pc of poorest neighbourhoods lived outside the North, while 18pc of those in the most deprived areas – around 1.15m people – lived in the wealthiest local authorities.

Mr Allan said: “The Government’s approach must be about supporting communities at the individual and neighbourhood level, not just rebalancing the economic fortunes of relatively wide geographic areas. A levelling-up agenda that solely focuses on the North will not be enough.”

The commission’s report set out a damning picture of the impact of Covid on the poorest regions of the UK as the virus widens overall inequality.

Neighbourhoods with the highest 10pc of unemployment benefit claims before the crisis have seen a 5.4 percentage point rise in claims. This was more than double the 2.3 percentage point rise seen for the 10pc of areas with the lowest claim rate before Covid-19.

The poorest areas have also suffered 21 extra deaths per 100,000 people from the disease.

The commission called for a better definition of “levelling up”, echoing the recommendations of last month’s Onward report by MP Neil O’Brien, that the Government’s ambitions should be judged on whether employment and earnings in the bottom fifth of local authorities rise towards the national average and unemployment falls.

Mr Allan added: “Without a clear definition and set of metrics to assess progress, it is difficult to see how we can provide a ladder of opportunity.”