The APPG for 'left behind' neighbourhoods was active between June 2020 and March 2024. This website will no longer be updated.

The government’s levelling up programme must ensure its policy agenda reduces inequalities over the next ten to twenty years, a new report by a cross-party group of MPs published today warns.  

The report, A Neighbourhood Strategy for National Renewal, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, welcomes the government’s acknowledgement of the need to tackle regional inequalities through a series of funding schemes to invest in the development of local infrastructure, boost community ownership of local assets, promote town centre regeneration and drive investment in deprived places.  

The report says current and previous administrations have struggled to make a tangible difference in the most ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods – those areas which are doubly disadvantaged by high levels of deprivation and community need and low levels of investment and resources.   

225 such neighbourhoods are classed as ‘left behind’, being ranked in the 10% most deprived localities in England.  In total, they comprise more than 2.4 million people – around four percent of the population.  These areas have historically received less than half the funding per head than people in other equally deprived places, the report says. 

The APPG says over many years government programmes have not recognised the scale of the challenges faced by these neighbourhoods, there has been insufficient collaboration with local people who know best what would benefit their community, and election cycles and changing political priorities prevent long-term investment in the neighbourhoods most in need.  

The report identifies three key areas where change needs to happen. Firstly, redistributing power from the centre to communities. The report says powers, responsibilities and accountabilities are too concentrated in Westminster and Whitehall and funding is often directed by the centre towards traditional infrastructure and economic development projects that may not reach people living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.   

Secondly, transforming funding and resources. Currently, the APPG says, the funding model for levelling up in England is too centralised, short-term, bureaucratic, and inflexible. The dominant funding model also emphasises one-off capital investment while neglecting the revenue funding that is critical for community development. This can hinder the development of locally-driven solutions to challenges faced by ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, as resources are often allocated according to top-down priorities and predefined criteria. 

Thirdly, shifting the culture from control to trust. The report recommends moving towards a culture of trust in which local people are empowered to act and then held accountable, and away from a culture of control by the centre.  

The APPG report makes a number of recommendations to address these issues, including: 

  • Faster progress should be made on creating a Community Wealth Fund – long term funding over 10-15 years for left behind neighbourhoods could be provided by using unclaimed money from dormant bank and building society accounts.  The report urges action before the next general election.
  • Multiple funding pots for tackling inequality should be amalgamated into more flexible levelling up funds and held and managed closer to where they will be spent.
  • As ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have historically missed out on their fair share of public funding from bidding rounds, funds should be allocated to them on a non-competitive basis, with a portion dedicated to building community capacity for the future.   
  • Funding should be allocated and managed differently, with resources held and deployed by communities, and the government should commit to ‘double devolution’ – in other words, devolution below the level of combined and local authorities, giving decision-making powers and resources to the residents of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. 
  • Introduction of an enhanced Community Right to Buy, which would help communities save local assets like pubs, clubs and green spaces and support the provision of new local amenities and facilities.  Many left behind neighbourhoods have lost such assets, and this would strengthen the existing community right to bid created by the 2011 Localism Act, giving community groups right of first refusal in acquiring such assets at a fair, independently assessed value.
  • The current proposal for a UK Community Investment Bank could also help accelerate the impact of these expanded powers, offering flexible loans at favourable terms to community groups. 

Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield and Conservative co-chair of the APPG, said: 

“We welcome the government’s commitment to levelling up, but the programme needs to support ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods by design rather than chance, account for changing economic circumstances, and ensure a redistribution of power and funding, if we are to see these neighbourhoods become less left behind over the next ten to twenty years. 

“Without corrective action, levelling up will not make a difference in the areas that need it most.  We are therefore at a crucial moment for the most challenged neighbourhoods, and decisions made in the next few years will define their prospects for decades to come.  Decisive action is now urgently needed to save the levelling up agenda from the strategic drift which threatens to waste the significant political will which has been generated in recent years.” 

Dame Diana Johnson DBE, MP for Kingston upon Hull North and Labour co-chair of the APPG, said:  

“So far, the government’s approach has not sufficiently recognised the scale of the challenge in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, nor does it acknowledge the innovative and community-led approaches our inquiry has found are most likely to make a difference in these places. In fact, the design of levelling up policies and funding pots risks overlooking the specific needs of these neighbourhoods, and could even produce worse outcomes in the very places levelling up is supposed to help.  

“To be successful and sustainable, levelling up must reflect local needs and circumstances – it can’t be something that is ‘done to people’, with decisions over investment and priorities made by Whitehall, or indeed the town hall, and simply imposed on communities. 

“The recommendations in our report are designed to put these neighbourhoods, and their residents, front and centre of a reformed approach to levelling up so that the aims we all want to see can be realised.” 

Barbara Slasor, community development lead for the Gaunless Gateway Big Local partnership in County Durham, and expert witness in the APPG’s final inquiry session into levelling up ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, said:  

“Levelling up should empower communities to create the change they want to see in their local areas. To do this, we must ensure the most deprived neighbourhoods receive the support they require, with power, resources, and trust placed in their hands. Their future hinges on our present actions and we can’t afford to waste the momentum we’ve built.  

“With my involvement in the Big Local programme in Bishop Auckland, I can personally attest that consistent investment holds the potential for substantial transformation. It’s imperative that communities have a say in local decisions, services, and facilities to bring about genuine change. It’s high time to empower residents to shape their own future.”