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Levelling up is opportunity to shift narrative on wealth

The CBI's warning to government that neglect of regions outside of London has caused a "branch line" economy may lead to questions about where responsibility lies in levelling up. The private sector has the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the north, but must go about it remaining conscious of the current anti-wealth sentiment.

Northern economy

It’s fast becoming clear that the levelling up agenda presents successful individuals and family businesses with an opportunity to demonstrate how they can add value to society at large. 

But ensuring that your business is making a positive impact on regional, intergenerational, and wealth inequality must come with communicating this work in an appropriate way.

CBI’s warning to the Government

The CBI has warned that parts of the UK have been neglected for decades, which has led to a “branch line” economy.

Speaking at their annual conference, director general Tony Danker said that certain areas of the country received nothing more than “benign neglect”, with the most productive parts of a sector too often being based in London and the southeast.

He went on to say the success of the government’s levelling-up agenda will be determined by the rate of economic growth across the country.

In response, the government’s Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said that levelling up all corners of the UK “is at the very heart of this government’s agenda.”

However, questions will surely arise about if responsibility for levelling up purely relies in the hands of the government, and if the private sector must also play a role.

Expectations for the rich

Coming off the back of the Pandora Papers, wealthy individuals are increasingly in the spotlight. On top of this, anti-wealth sentiment is at an all-time high and public and media scrutiny has never been so intense.

The public, and especially younger generations, expect a lot more from our wealthy industrialists than ever before. We hear it in news story after news story: ‘Tory sleaze’ in government, corruption across executive levels in business, money laundering, nepotism.

Perhaps it’s no wonder members of the public are so distrusting.

Ultimately, while they’re completely wrong in my view, many believe those in positions of power have got there based on who they know – not what they know.

They view wealthy individuals in an inherently negative way – it will be a hard battle to win them over. You will likely have to do more than you expect.

We’ve seen it in our research: the public expect wealthy individuals to shoulder more of the burden when it comes to recovering from COVID and climate change. When surveyed, 70 percent of respondents agreed that wealthy individuals should pay more taxes to help cover the costs of climate change.

Seize the opportunity…

The levelling up agenda will not work if it is a government initiative on its own. The objectives of levelling up have always been clear – empower local communities and spread opportunity, expand the private sector, and restore local pride – this should apply across the board from public to private sector.

It is a mighty task so it might be no surprise that larger national private firms have some responsibility, too, in helping the North’s economy to thrive. Furthermore, levelling up is an opportunity for successful families and individuals to play a role in bettering society.

It requires individuals and businesses to invest in the future of our country, as well as areas of the UK that have clearly suffered decades of underinvestment since deindustrialisation.

Whether it’s setting up new factories, manufacturing plants, and warehouses in the North of England to stimulate growth and create jobs.

Or it’s investing in the skills of young people outside of the metropolitan centre of London to create a ‘mini-cluster’ of high-tech innovation in Hull, Liverpool, or Swansea.

…but don’t be opportunistic

If individuals and businesses show they are trying to help level up, it will show they are trying to create impact. Their aspirations for investment in these regions must be framed as for the people, not for profit.

If prominent entrepreneurs and businesses are seen to be driving this levelling up agenda, there is a strong chance it will help shift the growing negative sentiment around wealth in the UK.

Doing so with the right intensions rather than appearing to be opportunistic will help shift perceptions that wealthy individuals think only of themselves.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.