The Levelling Up White Paper: what it means for culture and education

23 March 2022

The government’s Levelling Up White Paper contains complex, complicated, and refreshingly long-term ambitions to make significant changes to places and placemaking in the UK. It aims to align all relevant government investment and policy towards the achievement of these goals over the next 8 years, and to create a comprehensive placemaking strategy that will create a new kind of industrial revolution and systemic change for the UK.

In practice, this means that any organisation or individual looking to receive any public funding for arts, culture or education in the next decade, will, in all likelihood, need to be demonstrating delivery against this paper in some way.


For several years the government has been using the term ‘Levelling Up’ in its policy making. It has used it to talk about policies that redistribute funds to areas which have been historically underfunded, and also about policies that effect people, such as the Universal Credit Taper Rate.

Despite much criticism that the policy was difficult to describe and didn’t have a clear set of aims and objectives, the language of Levelling Up was used to shape and flag investment initiatives such as the 2021 Levelling Up Fund; which distributed £1.7bn to infrastructure projects across the UK - many of them related to arts, culture and education. You can read the full list of successful recipients here. The Government Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government was also renamed as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in September 2021, with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP made the first Secretary of State for Levelling Up.

The Levelling Up White Paper

The 332 page Levelling Up White Paper was published in February 2022 and aims to pull together all things Levelling Up into one place. In essence, the government has set out 12 ‘National Missions’ for the country, which it wants to have realised by 2030.

In the Foreword, the Prime Minister defines the mission as:

‘To take the radical steps needed to make us more prosperous and more united by tackling the regional and local inequalities that unfairly hold back communities and to encourage private sector investment right across the UK.’

The Institute for Government has a great snap-analysis of the paper here.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

It is important to note that the ‘Pre-guidance’ for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund was published on the same day. This fund purports to replace the funding that the UK received from the EU, and the envisaged outcomes and promised investment of £2.6bn new funding by March 2025 are a critical strand of the Levelling Up agenda. The investment is aimed to be used in conjunction with the Levelling Up Fund mentioned above.

The key governing principles of the Levelling Up White Paper: what you need to know

4 Key Levelling Up ‘Focus Areas’

  • boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, especially in those places where they are lagging;
  • spread opportunities and improve public services, especially in those places where they are weakest;
  • restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost; and
  • empower local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency.

6 'capitals’ that require investment in order for a place ‘Level Up’.

  • Physical capital – infrastructure, machines and housing.
  • Human capital – the skills, health and experience of the workforce.
  • Intangible capital – innovation, ideas and patents.
  • Financial capital – resources supporting the financing of companies.
  • Social capital – the strength of communities, relationships and trust
  • Institutional capital – local leadership, capacity and capability.

12 National Missions

The Missions are wide-ranging, but many of them have relevance to the arts and to cultural learning. There are targets for local transport infrastructure, digital connectivity, health, housing and crime, but the key Missions for us are as follows:

  • Education

By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

  • Skills

By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

  • Pride in Place

By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.

  • Local Leadership
    By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

Relevant policies in the White Paper and commentaries

It is important to note that there was little, if any, new cash announced in the White Paper as a whole, but there are a number of initiatives (many previously announced), that are mentioned.

  1. Education

Schools Week does an excellent job of setting out the education agenda, which includes:

  • a new National Online Academy which will ‘stretch’ children beyond the core curriculum,
  • renewed mention of the Education Investment Areas: 55 areas which will receive targeted government support for teacher retention and attendance programmes.
  1. Creative Industries

This statement from Caroline Norbury at Creative UK focusses on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the fact that the money announced does not equal the funding that the EU would have invested in the Creative Industries over the same period.

  1. Local government and devolved nations

The Local Government Association has written a good briefing that takes us through the impact on local governance and government; from devolution deals, to Mayoral Combined Authorities. The aim being to give more power and decision making to local areas.

This is a UK-wide policy which is unusual, as funding and policy tends to be devolved to the Home Nations. The Welsh Government has responded to the paper and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to say that, post Brexit, Wales is being left with less say over less money.

  1. Culture

The arts and culture are mentioned across this paper many times, which is encouraging in itself.

In the Pride of Place section, the document talks through regeneration (transformational projects, high streets, green spaces), communities (investment in young people through National Citizenship Service and previously announced Youth Funding, empowerment via the Community Ownership Fund, a forthcoming strategy for Community Spaces and Relationships, and some different pilot models of community investment).

The Heritage Alliance has pulled together a great summary of the impact for Heritage.

The Culture section includes a range of measures, including:

  • Diversifying the boards of cultural organisations in the National Portfolio.
    Arts Council England will support NPOs to engage with a wider set of audiences and communities, to ensure that the make-up of their workforces and boards reflects the communities they serve,

  • £40m of successful projects in England as part of the Cultural Investment Fund, with the majority of this being spent outside of London on over 50 projects involving cultural assets, libraries, museums and creative industries.

It is worth noting that the board diversification ambition sits in the context of the previous Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden’s ambition to end ‘woke bias’ on boards. Nadine Dorries has not picked up this baton from her predecessor, but it will be important to look at how the government plans to make this ambition a reality.

It is also worth noting that there is a line in the document that says the government will:

‘explore further collaboration between lottery funders for arts, heritage, sport and community projects within the UK to ensure that £1.7bn in National Lottery funding every year reaches the people and places that need it most’

which may have further implications for our Arms-Length funding bodies and their impartiality beyond those which we have laid out here and in our detailed blog about the changes to Arts Council England funding distribution.

The White Paper then sets out the framework for some seismic shifts in the way that Arts Council England Funding is set to be used and distributed. It includes the announcement of 109 Priority Places for cultural funding, a stipulation that an uplift in funds will be spent in these places, and a number of other measures including incentives for organisations to relocate from London. All of these measures are directly applicable to the Arts Council’s current investment process and anyone making an application to be a National Portfolio Organisation or an Investment Principle Support Organisation will need to take them into account.

Evaluation and measurement

Alongside the White Paper is a separate document that lays out what some of the metrics and measures for success will be for the Missions. These will be critical, especially the ones on Pride of Place, which mention civic participation.


A new Levelling Up Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Secretary of State will be created to embed levelling up across central government policy, and work with local leaders. The Government is also creating a Levelling Up Advisory Council. This will be charged with providing independent expert advice on matters relating to the design and delivery of Levelling Up. This will bring together a ‘diverse, independent, and expert group’.