7 Jul 2021

Why don’t they ask us? The role of communities in levelling up

We are delighted to unveil a landmark research report, Why don’t they ask us? The role of communities in levelling up. The new report reveals that current approaches to regeneration and economic transformation are not working for the majority of local communities and their economies.

Its key findings are that:

  • Interventions have consistently failed to address the most deprived communities, contributing to a 0% average change in the relative spatial deprivation of the most deprived local authorities areas;

  • The majority of ‘macro funds’ and economic interventions over the last two decades have not involved communities in a meaningful nor sustainable way;

  • The focus of interventions to build local economic resilience typically concentrate on a relatively small number of approaches, which risks missing crucial dimensions of local need, opportunity and agency, and reinforcing gaps between the national and the hyper-local;

  • Interventions have tended to concentrate on ‘between-place’ spatial disparities in economic growth at the expense of ‘within-place’ inequalities that exist inside local authority boundaries, which is where the economic strength or weakness of a place is most keenly felt by communities.

  • Where funds and interventions have had higher levels of community involvement, these have typically been disconnected from the structures where decisions are taken, undermining their aim of building community power into local economic solutions.


The report makes a range of recommendations to central government, including the creation of a new ‘Levelling Up Commission’; the creation of new locally led partnerships, modelled on the ‘power partnerships’ first proposed by Lord Kerslake to advise the Levelling Up Commission and a more equitable distribution of community asset ownership as an explicit objective of the new £150 million Community Ownership Fund.


Why don’t they ask us? is part of a series of working papers examining how to fix local economies so that they work better for communities. The purpose of these reports is to demonstrate a new approach to mapping and co-designing stronger local economies for communities, through an approach that takes in the wider evidence of economic opportunities and challenges but which is also directly community-led. The first report, Discomfort, Dissatisfaction & Disconnect: Exploring local economic perceptions through peer research, explored local economies from the perspectives of local communities through over fifty in-depth interviews undertaken using peer research, giving a platform to these all-too-often forgotten voices. The subject was chosen as it was found to be one of the top five priorities for communities in the Institute for Community Studies’s research agenda: Safety in Numbers? which set out the questions that matter to communities, as told and prioritised by over three thousand people across the UK.

Download the report: