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

Co-chairs’ foreword

We embarked on our inquiry into levelling up ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods shortly after the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper, at a time when all COVID-19 restrictions had only recently been lifted. Our opening inquiry session in April 2022 was the first meeting of the APPG to be held in person in Parliament since it was formed in June 2020.

Since then, we have held three further inquiry sessions following the broad outline of the White Paper’s missions, as well as two roundtables and a consultation event at St George’s House, Windsor Castle. We have heard the testimony of 21 expert witnesses and were delighted to receive 46 contributions from a wide range of individuals and organisations in response to our open call for evidence.

As co-chairs of the APPG, we believe this is our most important report to date.

It deals with one of the most pressing domestic issues facing us as a country: how we ensure the communities that have long missed out on the opportunities and services that most of us take for granted are no longer ‘left behind’. We represent constituencies that contain many of these areas, and know the extent of the deep-seated issues and complex challenges their local residents often face in their daily lives.

We also know the latent talent, skills and ambition that exists in many communities that have, sadly, been so badly let down and written off. When this potential is fostered, developed and harnessed through the right sort of long-term support, commitment to community capacity- building and investment in strengthening social infrastructure, we know how powerful community-led change can be in turning around a neighbourhood’s fortunes, and by extension, the prospects of the people that live there.

Hearing the stories of neighbourhood-based community activism by ordinary people has been a highlight of the inquiry. They are doing extraordinary things to regenerate their communities – from County Durham to Dover, and from Blackpool to Grimsby. This is levelling up, from the bottom up. To ensure that no areas miss out on the investment they need, and that the spatial inequalities that exist between neighbourhoods and within local authority areas are recognised and addressed, we need a strategic, long-term approach and commitment.

To be successful and sustainable, levelling up must also 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. As we have heard over the course of the inquiry, it needs to be a process that not just involves local people, but is led by them as the real experts who are best placed to know what needs to be done to improve local outcomes.

For levelling up to do this, and to meet the needs and aspirations of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, policy and practice need to be re-engineered, with a strategic focus at the neighbourhood level and an investment and delivery approach that gives local people the tools and resources they need to play their rightful and essential role in the stewardship of the places they call home.

Not everyone may agree with all the recommendations in this report, but we hope that the central premise is one that merits consideration across the party-political spectrum. We believe it is an important new contribution to the debate on how we think about and ‘do’ regeneration policy, and that it makes a compelling case for why the levelling up agenda should be remade in a way that puts those areas identified as ‘left behind’ front and centre of a new mission of national renewal. We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the inquiry, particularly those who provided oral and written evidence, and hope the report accurately reflects their contributions.

We share a positive vision for the future of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods: repairing their worn local social fabric to create flourishing, vibrant communities. Places where residents are better connected to the opportunities, facilities and services they need for their security, wellbeing, and prosperity, and for children and young people to succeed and get on in life.

Investment in building community capacity and the social infrastructure that engenders a healthy civil society and underpins economic development will help ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods avoid the scenarios we outline in this report: the base-case situation of stagnation, or the worst-case scenario of falling further behind. The findings from our inquiry chart a clear course to a third, best-case scenario, which sees left behind’ neighbourhoods leap forward.

Paul Howell MP
MP for Sedgefield
Co-chair, APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods

Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP
MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull North
Co-chair, APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods