Tory levelling-up – messages for the gullible!

 Illustration: Bill Bragg/The Guardian

By stewartb

The policy think tank IPPR North has recently published (26 July) an analysis of outcomes to date from the Tory’s ‘levelling-up’ policy. It’s now three years since it was launched after the 2019 General Election. The IPPR concludes that despite Tory rhetoric, public spending in the north of England is lower, and has grown less since 2019 than in other parts of England.


The analysis is based on ONS data published 27 May 2022: ‘Country and regional public sector finances, UK: financial year ending 2021 – Public sector revenue, expenditure and net fiscal balance on a country and regional basis.’


Based on a comparison of total public spending per person in FY 2021, the IPPR concludes that:

  • London saw the highest public spending per person and the highest increase over the course of the levelling up agenda, at £19,231 per person, an increase of 25 per cent
  • the spending gap between the North and London doubled over the three year period – growing from a difference of £1,513 per person to £3,008 per person between 2019 and 2021.

The researchers removed spending on Covid support schemes and on health to allow for the impact of the pandemic. On this basis, they still found similar shifts:

  • the North received £11,505 per person on public spending in 2021, an increase of two per cent on 2019 whilst London saw £13,442 per person, an increase of eight per cent since 2019; and on this basis
    • the gap between the North and London grew by almost 80 per cent, from £1,081 per person to £1,937 per person over the 2019 to 2021 period.

IPPR North states: “On public spending, the money simply didnt follow the levelling up rhetoric.” It notes: “At the same time, the country became more centralised and inequalities widened. This is because power is not distributed fairly in this country.” And it adds: “Our analysis suggests that levelling up was, in many ways, business as usual. But that has to change.” 

Who would have imagined it – Tories failing to deliver on economic promises to the north of England! Not content with failing England’s northern periphery (once again), the Tories are now intent on interfering with the devolution settlement in Scotland, using Westminster’s post-Brexit powers to by-pass our democratically-elected government and parliament in Edinburgh.

UK-wide picture

From its analysis of public finances, ONS (from the same source as above) makes the following points concerning UK countries and regions:

  • all UK countries and regions saw a large increase in expenditure in financial year ending (FYE) March 2021 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
    • London had the highest percentage increase of all parts of the UK compared with the previous year, of 31.0%
      • Scotland had the lowest percentage increase, 21.6%
  • all countries and regions had a net fiscal deficit in FYE March 2021
    • London had the lowest net fiscal deficit per head at £800
      • Northern Ireland had the highest net fiscal deficit per head at £9,500
  • London raised the most revenue per head (£18,430) in FYE March 2021, while the North East and Northern Ireland raised the least (£8,700 and £8,750 respectively)
  • London had the highest expenditure per head in FYE March 2021 at £19,230 while the East Midlands had the lowest at £15,000.

So the dominance of London remains: the IPPR findings suggest this is not changing despite Tory spin. This conclusion is in line with a recent report from the Institute for Government entitled: ‘What levelling up policies will drive economic change?’


On levelling-up policies, IfG concludes: ‘even if all five missions – for schools, skills, transport, broadband and R&D – were met by 2030, the total economic benefit would be around £20bn in todays terms (1% of GDP). Even if all those benefits accrued outside London and the South East, that would be enough to reduce the gap between those two regions and the rest of the UK only from 41% to 39%. ……. this would hardly constitute the major change in the UKs regional economic balance that the government has promised as average wages would remain £7,000 lower than in London and the South East.’

And the IfG adds: ‘As things stand, the governments approach to levelling up does not show the scale required to affect regional inequality, …’ The IPPR North analysis would suggest that the IfG is being too optimistic!

If little or no prospect of a beneficial transformation of England’s economy, what prospect for change in Scotland whilst tied to the Union?

A big inducement for North Yorkshire?

The Westminster government recently announced (1 August) another levelling-up initiative for the north of England. We learn that: ‘A devolution deal worth £540m over 30 years for York and North Yorkshire has been agreed. It means the area will get a directly-elected mayor, subject to councils ratifying the agreement, in May 2024.

The agreement includes a £540m investment fund over 30 years, which will allow the mayor to spend money on local priorities such as infrastructure projects and economic development sites.


£540m over 30 years – wow! That’s a ‘huge’ £18m per year if distributed evenly, not forgetting the degrading impact on purchasing power of inflation over 30 years! This annual sum can be put in context further by using ONS data (see earlier link) on the public finances for the UK’s countries and regions. The figure for ‘identifiable public expenditure’ in the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside was £69,839 million in FY 2020-21.


For the sake of argument, let’s say the FY 2020-21 spend in York and North Yorkshire was c.11% of this £69,839 million (a rough estimate based on population share) i.e. a total identifiable expenditure of c.£7,682 million in that year. So the figure of £18 million per annum in this ‘historic’ devolution deal may be just 0.23% of the estimated current identifiable public expenditure in the area. I say again – wow! Let’s hope the newly devolved powers can achieve more than the (relative) pittance of £18 million per annum from Westminster.

How is Scotland positioned in these ONS statistics?

For completeness, below find what is revealed about Scotland’s public finances by the same ONS ‘country and regional public sector finances’ statistics referenced earlier. This shows where Scotland sits now relative to other parts of the UK on a number of metrics. As this post is already long, the focus here is just on revenue per head, arguably a metric less discussed in the media than expenditure per head.

Where not reproduced, the charts can be inspected here: 

ONS Figure 1 (below): this plots public sector finances – revenue per head – comparing 2009 (right) with 2021. The 2021 map shows the broad swathe of the English North and Midlands, Wales and NI with lower revenues per head than Scotland: the South East and London stand out in terms of highest revenues per head. This polarisation seems to have become more apparent over time.

ONS Figure 6 shows revenue per head raised in FYE March 2020 and FYE March 2021. London has far and away the highest figure, followed by the South East region. The revenue figure for Scotland is very close to the average for the whole UK: the figure for what is raised in Scotland is higher than six out of the nine English regions and substantially higher than NI and Wales.

ONS Figure 8 shows the Income Tax raised per Income Tax payer in FYE March 2020 and FYE March 2021. All regions and nations show an increase in FYE March 2021 over the previous year: the increase for London is especially marked.  The figures for Scotland, for both years, is higher than all regions and nations except for London, South East England and East of England.

ONS Figure 11 identifies ‘net fiscal balances per head’ in FYE March 2020 and FYE March 2021. London has seen its balance per head change most between the two years, moving from a strong positive to a deficit position. The South East England and the East of England have also moved into deficit.  Scotland is placed between North West England and the West Midlands.  In FYE 2021, North West England, North East England, Wales and NI had higher net fiscal deficits per head than Scotland.


Of course context is important when considering ONS statistics for Scotland. They are for a country that has:

  • endured Tory governments for the past 12 years, none of which a majority in Scotland wanted
    • ‘unwanted’ Tory governments that long pursued an austerity agenda whilst also having control over most fiscal, all monetary, all migration, most social security, most labour market and almost all energy-related decisions impacting Scotland’s economy, and
  • endured the uncertainty and subsequently the damaging outcomes of a hard Brexit that a majority in Scotland didn’t vote for.

And looking forward, without independence this is a Scotland that will face the prospect of: (a) further periods of Tory rule from Westminster, likely to pursue even more right-wing policies as well as threatening to undermine the agency of the Scottish government and parliament via the UK Internal Market Act 2020; or (b) a temporary period of Labour Party rule from Westminster, a party opposed to EU membership, opposed to European single market membership, opposed to free movement of people, and with no commitment to electoral reform for Westminster (that is despite telling us it’s in favour of introducing ‘federalism’ to the Union!) – and (nearly forgot!) favours retaining nuclear weapons on the Clyde!


10 thoughts on “Tory levelling-up – messages for the gullible!

  1. How much better Scotland would be without Westminster spending plans. It is not just income outcomes but Westminster wasting. £Billions of tax revenues. Scotland raises more on average. £66Billion. On average UK raises £600Billion + other taxes. Council tax? Scotland revenues pay for illegal wars, tax evasion, and financial fraud. The UK Treasury takes 1/6 of revenues Scotland raises and spends it on Westminster poor, bad policies decisions. How much better off Scotland would be if the funds were spent in Scotland.

    Westminster borrows and spends what it likes in the rest of the UK. Scotland has to pay the interest. Scotland has to manage on a fixed budget. Westminster Treasury does not. Decisions Westminster makes costs Scotland dear. Illegal wars, financial fraud, tax evasion. Hickley Point, HS2, paying for Westminster fraud.

    Scotland losing £3Billion in tax evasion. Westminster tax Laws and rules. Scotland has to pay £3Billion on Westminster debts. Scotland pays too much for Trident and redundant weaponry. Scotland cannot borrow to grow the economy. Growth would cover the spend.

    It means £Billions of Scotland revenues and resources are mismanaged by Westminster Treasury. Scotland in surplus in fuel and energy and nearer the source pays more for it. Funds going to support London S/E. London subsidies transport system etc. Paying for slots at Heathrow etc. Tilbury Docks and Canary Wharf, BBC, Westminster administration subsidised by Scottish funds but barely gets any benefit. Jobs in the Mall. London HQ’s funded by other commercial activities elsewhere in Scotland. Ie Whisky industry.

    Brexit the next Westminster poor, bad decision, especially for Scotland. Scotland voted to remain by a majority. Goods now being held up at Dover. Salmon, fish and foodstuffs the best exports but having difficulties.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Though the £66billion that Scotland has removed in revenues by the English government is surely far higher as Scotland’s oil, removed by WM, and other resources such as gold and whisky etc are not included in the figures. London’s infrastructure developments, and the waste of money on so many English Govs’ vanity projects, some military and others like HS2 etc, alone would require all of Scotland’s £66billion that they take. They are lying about how much Scotland raises each year, if all of Scotland’s actual revenues were taken into account, it would surely be a lot more than £66billion, a figure pulled out of a hat.

      The £38(?) billion (being reduced yearly?) they send back to Scotland with added ridicule and contempt, is peanuts on which to run a country. I don’t know how Scotland’s elected gov manages quite frankly, but they do against such massive odds, oh if only full fiscal powers were at their disposal…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wasn’t it £37billion that Dido Harding Tory was handed for PPE, some that needed to be burnt as it was useless, and the rest now stored in big bins at a cost of £500k a day…I wonder who owns those bins? Nice little earner anyways.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dido was test and trace which was so successful they can’t find a trace of the £37 billion!!. It was another raft of Tory donors who got the PPE that is now being burned and in the process making quite a contribution to Global warming.

          Scotland set up its own successful version of test and trace at a fraction of the cost of the T&T used in England. The ash also set up a network of companies operating in Scotland to source/manufacture PPE.


  2. The current headline on the BBC website is this

    “Extent of struggle to find NHS dentist revealed by far-reaching BBC research”

    It says

    “Nine in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK are not accepting new adult patients for treatment under the health service, a BBC investigation has found.”

    Scroll right down to learn

    “Meanwhile, the Scottish government said more than 95% of the population of Scotland were registered with an NHS dentist and it was “in a position of relative strength in terms of workforce numbers and capacity”.”

    For the less than 5% of the population of Scotland that are not registered (I worked that bit out by myself) and who require access to NHS dentistry we learn..

    ” Scotland had significantly better access to NHS dentistry for adults than the other UK nations, with 18% of practices taking on new health-service patients.”

    And the percentage of the population in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are registered with a NHS dentist?

    The article does not say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed it is an article which requires some mental gymnastics as the authors change parameters.
      eg – They evade citing the figure for England and instead refer to 90% across the UK NOT “taking on new health-service patients” in the intro, then further down flip it again for 18% “taking on new” in Scotland. Why not 90% and 82% ?
      Similarly – “98% of practices were not accepting new adult NHS patients”, then in the next line ” almost a quarter of practices were taking on new adult NHS patients”, why not 98% versus 75% NOT taking on new patients.

      After the snippet of Scotland “taking on new health-service patients” they switch term to ” rates of access” to compare all but Scotland, but it’s unclear what this actually means in context.

      It appears to have written to deliberately bewilder and obscure comparison.


  3. £66Billion+ – Scottish Gov Accounts

    On average £600Billions+ – UK Gov Accounts

    Look it up in 10mins. On the internet.

    Scotland loses £13Billion++ on Westminster poor, bad decision. The so called deficit.

    £66Billion + £13Billion+ = £79Billion+

    Norway raises £80Billion++. – Internet.

    Available since Devolution 2000.

    Computers and internet 1990s


  4. Dentists and healthcare workers have left. Brexit. Thousands have left. Now a massive shortage.

    NHS Tory underfunding. Underfunded £20Billion 2015 to 2020. Not increased. Still underfunded. Covid. Monies went to Tories and their associates. £Billions in unscrutinised illegal contracts. Instead of funding the services. Tax evading Tories and their associates took the illegal ‘profits’. People died. The reason they join the Tory Party. To ripe society off.

    Scottish Gov has to mitigate the cuts.


  5. Scotland Block grant ££41Billion. (UK) Pensions + Benefits £15Billion. £56Billion. £10Billion spent on Westminster poor, bad decisions. It could be better spent in Scotland by Scottish decision. No taxation without representation. Scotland outvoted 10 to 1.

    Too much spent on Trident + redundant weaponry. £1Billion. £3Billion lost on tax evasion. UK tax Laws and rules. £3Billion on loan repayments not borrowed or spent in Scotland. Westminster borrows and spends eg £100Billion spent on the rest of the UK. (£10Billion more pro rata). Scotland cannot borrow. (£6Billion 1/10 to grow the economy. Paid for by growth). Invest to accumulate. £13Billion = the so called deficit. That could be better spent.

    £66Billion + £13Billion+ = £79Billion. That could be better spent.

    Norway raises £80Billion.

    Westminster Illegal wars, financial fraud, tax evasion cost Scotland dear. Westminster corruption and chaos breaking the rules. Breaking International Law. The UK the most unequal place in the world because of Westminster lies and corruption. A travesty of justice. Brexit the next imposed catastrophe. The Westminster unionist scandal.

    Scotland would be more cohesive, prosperous and equal without Westminster colossal interference and mismanagement. More equal countries, in the world, are cohesive and happier.


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