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Budget 2021: policies back levelling up agenda – but does it go far enough?

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak today laid out the government’s plans for the next few years in the Autumn Budget, focusing on setting out the steps toward a “new economy”. Within the plans the Chancellor has announced £6.9bn for English city regions to spend on train, tram, bus and cycle projects, including further potential funds for projects such as a high-speed link between Leeds and Manchester, as well as £1.7 billion for local councils in deprived areas to spend on improvements to local infrastructure from the government’s levelling-up fund.

These plans come as part of the UK Government’s levelling up agenda, a key policy during the 2019 election, since disrupted by the impacts of the pandemic and now coming back into sharp focus. This agenda has, however, been helped in some ways by successive lockdowns and an increasing desire to live in areas with more space and better value property, which has seen a significant number move away from cities such as London, taking with them capital and talent into the regions.

Data from Hamptons estate agents also shows Londoners alone buying 61,380 homes outside the capital between January and June 2021, the highest number since 2006, with research commissioned by property tax experts Cornerstone Tax illustrating the sentiments behind this:

In the past year, over 3.3 million Brits have moved away from a city or urban area
44% of Brits feel that the impact of Coronavirus has made living in a city less appealing
24%, or 4.3 million Brits, will no longer commute into a city for their job post-pandemic

David Hannah, principal consultant at property tax experts Cornerstone Tax, comments on why the budget is backing a wider trend:

“This Budget sets up what is becoming a wider trend in migration away from centres to the regions, so it is good to see that infrastructure spending is being put in place to support this. It is also good to see no further significant tax rises announced as the UK economy grows at a faster rate than first thought, as it has long been the thinking of many economists that growth, both economically and in tax takes, comes from lower taxes, not higher.

“The commentary around the property market and the pandemic positions Covid-19 as the only cause for this trend of deurbanisation outlined by property demand and our own data. We don’t think this is quite fair – many of us have long-dreamed of a slower life in the country, and the cultural significance of this dream is nothing new. The ubiquitous effects of the pandemic and the various lockdowns its caused has naturally had a significant impact, mainly by making the culture of work less rigid. “