Gerard Toplass_The 55 Group

THE government’s long-awaited levelling up whitepaper has been unveiled in full at long last. The document outlines the government’s commitments to rebalancing the UK’s services and economies, which is segmented into 12 key mission statements.

Gerard Toplass, executive chairman of The 55 Group, which heads a collective of businesses operating within the construction sector – including national framework provider Pagabo, along with risk, compliance and contract management software company Sypro, social value specialists Loop, and digital-first training platform Tequ – has a positive outlook on the whitepaper.

He said: “The levelling up whitepaper has been long-awaited by us all, and it’s great to see it has finally been published in full. While generally speaking, the 12 missions outlined by the government cover pretty much every aspect of daily life, we’re especially pleased to see a number of aims that align with our values.

“Our businesses operate nationally but are headquartered in central Hull, which is a city that understands the value that comes from investment – something that we have supported by investing in the transformation of 55 Whitefriargate to bring it back into use.

“We are really encouraged by the approach to devolved administrations, decentralising the power from Whitehall and putting it in the hands of people in the areas it is needed. It’s really pleasing that our region is one of the first areas to be able to open negotiations on this topic and we look forward to seeing how this develops in time.”

A number of mission statements within the whitepaper focus on improving infrastructure and huge regeneration projects, which will need to be led by local authorities and public sector bodies. Jason Stapley, managing director of national framework provider Pagabo, believes that construction professionals and their expertise will be the key in taking these schemes beyond promises and into reality.

He said: “The whitepaper puts great emphasis on restoring local pride, detailing how the government will support 20 towns and city centres with the undertaking of ambitious regeneration projects. It’s a proven fact that positive environments and delivering the infrastructure communities need will elevate an area or region in terms of jobs, productivity and economic boost.

“Such large-scale ambition for regeneration is met with the detail of dozens of local authorities set to be supported by the High Streets Task Force to transform town centres. For built environment specialists, our support of public sector bodies for the delivery of such schemes will be key – and ensuring the gold standard of procurement will make sure that true value can be delivered to communities in a way that creates maximum positive impact, while streamlining processes and budgets.

“Equally, there is a focus on levelling up infrastructure and transport connections. With net zero carbon targets also set in place by government, it is these large-scale projects that provide huge opportunity for decarbonisation, along with an approach to refurbishment and retrofit to make sure existing building stock also minimises impact on our environment.

“Our frameworks are placed to support with all of these aims, with the ability to track all-important KPIs around a scheme as required, such as social return on investment, carbon reduction and local impact. We are set to go live with our civils and infrastructure framework in the coming weeks, which has been designed with these kinds of schemes in mind – so we look forward to working with clients on their projects that will work towards the levelling up agenda.”

Social value is a hot topic within the industry, and one that will extend into every reach of life. One of The 55 Group’s businesses is social value calculation specialist, Loop. With several of the mission statements outlined by the government focussing on social-led topics, making sure that organisations are able to identify the actual positive impact of their work on communities will become a big operation.

Angus Townsend, group social value lead, said: “Some of the missions outlined within the whitepaper may appear to some as ‘softer elements’, such as improving life expectancy. However, these elements are all interlinked and very much tied to social value and the types of outcomes we help our clients demonstrate from their operations.

“It’s likely that generating social value and delivering the levelling up agenda will become synonymous with each other – but the responsibility on doing both will be on all of us. It will be important to make sure we can examine the impact of everything we do and how that plays into the core mission statements from the whitepaper. As ‘the social value people’, we are primed and ready to work with our clients to help demonstrate both quantitative and qualitative evidence to show how they are helping to work towards these outcomes.”

Gerard concluded: “There has been a mixed reaction to the whitepaper so far, but we are hopeful that it will mark a moment where direction changes towards making actionable change to rebalance the country. The key will be ensuring it delivers what it promises – and it will be up to us all to keep momentum and hold leadership accountable to making process.

“Of course, a lot of our operations are within the construction industry so there are ample ways our work will be able to support the aims around regeneration and infrastructure. However, our work stretches far beyond this, working on key areas including social return on investment and seeking to modernise skills and training to make it fit for the modern world.

“Seeing a focus on research and development and improving education standards is hopeful – but will largely rely on adequate funding. Part of levelling up is putting the power into the hands that need it, so making sure that we are working towards practises fit for the future will be a huge part of the journey. For example, in the construction sector there is an ongoing shortage of skills that training courses are simply not fit for purpose in tackling due to relevance, complexity or overall length.

“With a better, digital-first approach to training, education and R&D, we can all play a key role in delivering the positive future that every individual deserves, which is not impacted by where they live.”


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BDC 303 Apr 2023