Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resounding election win last month followed a campaign in which he pledged not only to “get Brexit done” but to put the regions of this country on a level footing.
He recognised in his speeches that some areas of the UK lag behind when it comes to economic productivity, infrastructure and educational outcomes, an injustice that must be addressed if he is to realise the ambition he set out to close the opportunity gap between rich and poor and to tackle regional disparity.
Today’s report from the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), revealing a stark gap in perceived opportunities in different regions, is yet another example of why decisive action is needed. It found less than half of those living in Yorkshire and the Humber felt there were good avenues to success in their area, compared to 78 per cent in London.
Equally dismaying is that where there are opportunities, in many cases local employers are struggling to recruit people with the right skills to take them. Indeed, a new report by The Prince’s Trust and Govia Thameslink Railway has warned of a looming skills crisis in this region, with two thirds of employers saying school leavers don’t have the necessary assets for work.
After his promise to “level up” the regions helped secure him seats across the North, voters will now be looking to Mr Johnson to lead the way in addressing such challenges. He must respond, in a pressing manner, to a call for the Government to do more to help social mobility. And he would do well to heed the words of employers, shaping an education system that emphasises not just grades but desirable digital and creative talent and so-called ‘soft skills’, vital for the workplace.
Young people must be able to access opportunities on their doorstep. As SMC chairwoman Dame Martina Milburn rightly says, they shouldn’t have to move out to move up.