Aerial view on Cologne at night
20 November 2021 07:00 AM

Can the UK learn from Germany’s levelling up programme?

20 November 2021

Two years have passed since Boris Johnson first promised to level up the UK’s left behind areas. Since then people have linked it to everything from HS2 to grassroots football, but we have heard little from the Government about what it means or how it plans to deliver it.

The delay is understandable given the pressures of the pandemic, but we could now be just two years away from a general election and Red Wall Conservative MPs are growing concerned that they will have little to show their voters on polling day.

They are right to be worried. Cancelling the eastern leg of HS2 has been seized upon as proof that the Government is not serious about levelling up, and the public are not particularly impressed by the measures the Government has announced so far: Centre for Cities’ polling found that just one in ten people would prioritise moving civil servants out of London to level up – yet the Government makes much of its plans to do exactly this.

A long-awaited white paper setting out the Government’s plans was delayed last month, though Michael Gove hopes to have it published by Christmas. Reportedly he wants to recreate what he calls the ‘Medici Effect’ – the idea that bringing skilled people together will also bring prosperity. The principles behind this are right but, on a practical level, fifteenth century Florence is not the best example for the twenty-first century UK to emulate. Instead ministers should look to modern Germany.

Post-reunification Germany was an economically divided country: productivity in the former East was around sixty percent of that in the West. To tackle this problem the Federal Government began a thirty year-long levelling up programme which, though not finished, has narrowed the gap: eastern Germany’s productivity is now 85% of western Germany.

Given the success of Germany’s levelling up programme, people in Whitehall should look to what their counterparts in Berlin did over three decades. However, I am not convinced they are prepared to do what the Germans knew was necessary to make the programme a successin the long-term.

Next article

Related articles