The government is falling short on its pledge to 'level up' the region, according to the first major assessment of the flagship policy.

A new report, spearheaded by local MPs and councillors, concludes that ministers are only on course to achieve their stated objectives in three out of 12 policy areas.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the 94-page document proved that while progress had been made in some areas, there was “still a very long way to go”.

Eastern Daily Press: Waveney MP Peter AldousWaveney MP Peter Aldous (Image: TMS Media)

Among the concerns highlighted by the report are:

  • A lack of affordable housing and an unusually high number of substandard private rented homes,
  • Bus operators removing essential services and swathes of the region becoming ‘transport deserts’, following years of underinvestment in public transport,
  • Poor broadband coverage, with a lower than average percentage of people having access to gigabit broadband.

The goal of “levelling up every part of the United Kingdom” was a key promise in the Conservative party’s 2019 general election manifesto.

In February 2022, the government made the pledge more specific, by splitting it into 12 separate missions, each aimed at improving economic opportunity and quality of life in parts of the country that have previously been overlooked and disadvantaged.

It set itself a benchmark it hoped to reach in each area by 2030. 

But the report, published this month by the All Party Parliamentary Group for the East of England, in partnership with the East of England Local Government Association, has concluded that the government is unlikely to achieve its targets in five of those 12 missions.

In four areas it is making only partial progress towards its targets, and is due to completely achieve only three objectives.

Areas of concern include:



Home ownership in the east is the highest of any English region, at 67.4pc in 2021. 

Eastern Daily Press: Home ownership is high in the east, but houses are still too unaffordable, the report concludesHome ownership is high in the east, but houses are still too unaffordable, the report concludes (Image: PA)

But the east also suffers from higher than average house prices. The gap between the median house price and median earnings is higher than the English average in 42 of the region’s 45 council areas.

In addition, almost a quarter of private rented homes in the region - some 24pc - are classified as ‘non-decent’, meaning that they do meet standards for repair, health and safety, and warmth. 



Even in well-populated areas, the report says that essential bus services are being cut by operators, gradually creating 'transport deserts' across swathes of the region. 

Eastern Daily Press: Bus services have been cut by operators, even in highly-populated areas like Norwich (pictured)Bus services have been cut by operators, even in highly-populated areas like Norwich (pictured) (Image: Antony Kelly)

The government set itself the goal of bringing in improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing by 2030, but the report said this seemed unlikely to come to fruition without significantly more funding from Whitehall.

When it comes to the region’s rail infrastructure, eastern MPs have long been lobbying for improvements to be made to Ely and Haughley junctions - which act as ‘bottlenecks’ on the number of trains able to head out from Norwich and King's Lynn towards London, Cambridge and other cities. 



As in the rest of Britain, backlogs from the Covid pandemic have hampered the ability of the east’s health services to deliver swift care to those in need. 

Rising deprivation has also impacted on the region’s average healthy life expectancy (HLE) - the amount of time someone considers themself to be in ‘good health’.

HLE has slipped from 66.2 years among women in 2009-11 down to 65.0 years in 2018-20.

Among men, the drop over that period was more negligible, going from 64.7 to 64.6 years.

Eastern Daily Press: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's LynnThe Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn (Image: Queen Elizabeth Hospital)

The report also points out that many of the region’s health facilities are in urgent need of investment such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, the North West Anglia Foundation Trust and the West Suffolk Hospital. 



Disadvantaged school pupils - those eligible for free school meals and therefore a focus for levelling up - perform less well in the east (47pc) than the English average (52pc), when it comes to achieving the expected standards in reading, writing and maths. 

Among children overall, the east’s figure is 64pc, just below the English average of 65pc. 

The government’s aim is for 90pc of children to be achieving the expected standards, but the Institute for Government has warned this will be “virtually impossible” to achieve by the 2030 deadline.



The east has the lowest participation rate per 100,000 of the population in adult funded further education and skills in England, with a low apprenticeship uptake compared with other regions. 

The report states that there is “little evidence” this will change over the coming years. 


What is the region doing well on? 

In three of the 12 policy areas, the report’s authors say they have a “high confidence” in the government meeting its targets. 

They are employment and pay, research and development (R&D), and wellbeing. 

Wages and productivity, despite growing at a slower rate than in other regions, are growing nonetheless. 

Eastern Daily Press: The research park in Norwich is one of the region's assetsThe research park in Norwich is one of the region's assets (Image: Norwich Research Park)

The region is meanwhile capitalising on its R&D assets in Cambridge, Norwich, and the towns in between, such as Wymondham, Attleborough and Thetford - known as the Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor. 

When it comes to measuring wellbeing, the east has above-average life satisfaction ratings than the UK as a whole.


Have there been any other successes? 

In the remaining four policy areas - digital connectivity, pride in place, crime and devolution - the report’s authors had a “medium confidence” of success. 

The rollout of gigabit broadband and 4G/5G coverage is in progress, but could be happening faster, the report says. 

Though hard to measure, pride in place could be said to be improving across the region, thanks to raft of council projects aimed at boosting investment into town centres.

Homicide, serious crime and neighbourhood crime fell across the region during the pandemic, but longer-term trends in its aftermath need monitoring, the report says. 

Eastern Daily Press: Crime trends need to be closely monitored, the report saysCrime trends need to be closely monitored, the report says (Image: Cambridgeshire Police)

And on devolution, the report warns a more flexible approach is needed from government, to ensure that any powers granted from Whitehall can be used to benefit coastal and rural areas. 


What does the government say?

A spokesman from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “The east of England has received almost £300 million through various Levelling Up funds over the past three years to benefit community projects across the region.

“We also recently signed historic devolution deals which transfer money and power over building, regeneration and skills into the hands of local leaders in Suffolk and Norfolk, backed by more than a billion pounds over the next 30 years to ensure they are equipped for the future.”