Council to spend £10m on levelling up county

Millions of pounds will be spent by Essex County Council to regenerate parts of the county under its own ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The county council will be paying particular attention to Basildon and Canvey Island as part of its plans.

The council’s plan to improve the life chances of the county’s most disadvantaged follows a framework of 14 ‘levelling up goals’ drawn up by Justine Greening, the UK’s former Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities.

She now chairs Levelling Up Goals and who has helped plan how communities and individuals can be empowered out of poverty.

Ms Greening – who joined ECC’s deputy leader Louise McKinlay for the launch of the council’s own levelling up white paper on January 6 – added that following strong foundations in early years an “easy thing to change” is to make employees realise they have it in their gift to connect people with opportunities.

The £10m earmarked for Levelling Up is part of a £45m funding pot allocated for the council’s Everyone’s Essex plan – 20 commitments based on the economy, environment, children and families and promoting health, care and wellbeing.

The money is in the current year’s budget but ECC says that given the wide nature of the agenda and the amount of agencies involved, the ECC contribution is just a part of the total levelling up spend over the next four years.

A spokesman said: “Having a big impact through this agenda isn’t just about, or proportionate to, the money – it’s about encouraging wider community participation and involvement.”

That is where employers have to come in, said Ms Greening.

She said: “It starts with strong foundations in early years and then successful schools years.

“And the big change which we can really help happen across the county is to get employers to realise that if they can change how they work they can connect a lot more people with opportunities. And they can help them understand what opportunities are out there.

“It is very hard to aim for opportunities when you don’t know they exist.

“And that can be quite an easy thing to change if there is enough focus on it.

“There are some straight forward things with lots of different aspects of levelling up to tackle but ultimately it’s possible and that is what we want to try to achieve.”

In the launch of its levelling up White Paper today ECC said it recognised that levelling up cannot be delivered by the county council alone and that levelling up can only succeed if it is embedded in communities and has the support of all key partners including local government, health partners, emergency services, schools, colleges and universities, the voluntary sector, community groups and businesses.

There are more than 123,000 people in Essex, 40,000 of whom are children, that live in areas that are in the 20 per cent most deprived of the whole UK.

This is a figure that has doubled since 2007.

At Key Stage 4 there is a 30 per cent gap in educational attainment between the most and least deprived areas in the county. There is on average a 12 year life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived areas of the county.

The most deprived areas of the county sees significantly worse health – including 87 per cent higher instances of respiratory progressive diseases such as COPD, 69 per cent higher instances of mental health conditions and adult obesity is 53 per cent higher.

Its priority cohorts are focused on children and adults with SEND, learning disabilities, or mental health conditions, children on free school meals, working families and young adults who have not been in education, training or employment for around six to 12 months.

ECC says it is focused on five main areas that align most closely with its areas of responsibility namely the economy and improving access to “good jobs”, the environment and its focus on improving access to a high quality environment, health and wellbeing and supporting people to live long, healthy and happy lives, education and skills and supporting people to grow up and live in strong, safe, and resilient families and communities.

Cllr McKinlay said: “For me it’s about starting well. So those formative years with a stable and secure family background and being in a place where you can grow up safe and secure is really fundamental to life chances.

“And if you are ready for school again that maps your life chances in terms of having how you will get on.

“But of course it can’t end there. Even if you come from a happy stable background and you are ready for school at five, if you haven’t got good housing and haven’t got success around you and job opportunities that you can physically get to even, then even if you can academically attain to get there again your chances are limited.

“As important as it is to start well that alone is not enough and that brings us full circle for the levelling agenda and how complex it is and how it needs to be looked at very much from a local angle and local lens with people owning and crafting developing some of the actions and solutions around this.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter