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Peers call for Government to ‘urgently publish’ White Paper on ‘levelling up’ public services


By James Hacker
20 May 2021

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The Government should ‘urgently publish’ its White Paper on its ‘levelling up’ scheme to outline how it will address gaps in data on health outcomes, the House of Lords Public Services Committee has said.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Committee said that missing data could impede the Government’s ‘levelling up’ strategy: an initiative, supported by a £4.8bn fund, aiming to address regional disparities and boost investment in public services.

The letter cited a range of evidence, including a report by the University of Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy, which said that data sources on health outcomes were ‘currently gathered at different geographical scales’.

The Committee recommended that this data be made publicly available and called for the White Paper to outline how the Government will measure its strategy for reducing geographic disparities.

Post-pandemic pressures

The Committee also warned that the current spending plans for the NHS and schools do not take ‘adequate account’ of post-pandemic pressures.

It said that the levelling up funds will need to be supplemented with additional mainstream funding for councils, and for health and education.

The letter also said that evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that Government funding promises – of a 1% increase in cash terms in 2021/22 to the public health grant and an average of over 3% in real terms for core departmental spending – would fail to meet the post-pandemic demand for public services.

The Committee recommended that the Government introduce a revised funding proposal in the 2021 Spending Review that will support public services to meet these challenges.

Health a ‘key measure of success’

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said that the report highlights how health ‘across the country’ should be a ‘key measure of success’ for the levelling up agenda, and welcomed the Government’s acknowledgement of the need to address inequalities within its levelling up agenda.

She said: ‘The next step must be to set out a coherent strategy to achieve this, building on the initial policies and funding announced [for levelling up] yesterday.

‘Such a strategy must include a clear path to reducing avoidable and costly ill health – including mental health – assessed against measurable goals and metrics. Without that, avoidable ill-health will be a drag on future prosperity.’

She added that the Government should tackle wider detriments of health, including poverty and unemployment, targeting areas where life expectancy has been deteriorating.

‘Local government has a central role to play in addressing these ‘wider determinants’ of health, and it will be important to link a strategy for levelling up with any new plans to develop devolution within England,’ Dr Dixon said.

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