• Andrew Black

What would Wilfredo Pareto say about levelling up?


So another party conference season over and I kept half an eye and even less of an ear on what was being said. I was half hoping (wishful thinking) to get a bit more of an idea on what ‘Levelling Up’ actually means in practice and what ‘Build Back Better’ will look like for us professionals in the built environment.


Having listened to Boris yesterday I’m still none the wiser. ‘Levelling Up’ was mentioned no less than 12 times by the Prime Minister in his speech. ‘Build Back Better’ just twice but he did actually say ‘Build Back Burger’ in reference to the British beef industry and ‘Build Back Beaver’ in reference to the environment. I mean…….WTF???


He even went onto suggest that beavers were some kind of serial offenders when it came to planning enforcement issues saying this….

And though beavers may sometimes build without local authority permission you can see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this county not on green fields, not just jammed in the south east, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites, in places where homes make sense.


Well there are a number of things in that statement that are frankly bollocks!


Following the Chesham and Amersham result the conservatives are allowing this untruth to perpetuate that the south east is in some way ‘full’. But also suggesting that anyone who now even thinks about building a house on a green field is the antichrist. A duplicitous thought process which is strung out by countless nimbies who should really know better and more than likely live in a house that was built on a green field.


Look, I’m all for urban regeneration but if you want to have a conversation about the homes that families actually need then the solution isn’t just brownfield sites outside of the south east of England.


But even if, EVEN IF, that was the right way to go. It is well understood that there just simply isn’t enough brownfield land to meet the needs of those he talked about as shown years ago by Lichfields (and recently resurfaced).


And the reference by Boris to the economic theory of levelling up being contained in the insight of Wilfredo Pareto? Anyone??? Yeah me neither. Well having looked him up, turns out he was a fin de siècle Italian civil engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist and philosopher (I bet he would have had a great linked in profile!). So, other than rocking an impressive beard that wouldn’t look out of place in the coffee shops of Shoreditch, he introduced the concept of the Pareto Efficiency which was the observation that 80% of the wealth in Italy belonged to about 20% of the population. His observations were picked up and used by many others including errrrr Mussolini. But, he was of course bang on and probably a bit shy of the mark when it comes to the split between wealth and the % of the population in the UK in the 21st century. But levelling up, Boris doesn’t seem to be talking about redistributing wealth or evening out that split. From reading his speech he wants to make the 80% more like the 20%. It seems that Boris want to make more tories. To get more people a home. To get more people to university. To get people to live longer.


I get it. But I don’t get how they are going to get there. It seems as though our government loves to find a decent mantra and then they just keep saying it until it becomes part of the psyche of the nation. Like ‘Brexit means Brexit’ or ‘Stay at Home’. But when pushed on what it actually means and what the implications are you just get the usual bluff and bluster.


So ‘levelling up’ and ‘build back better’? Still no idea really. Sorry. I’d really love to offer some vision of the what the future holds for us. Perhaps what we need is to start some sort of Urban Task Force and get someone who really knows what they are talking about to run it. Someone like Richard Rogers……….oh wait a minute…….