The role of education in levelling up the North

Where lies the opportunity in skills?

3 February 2021
Zoom and live stream

As the rate of unemployment starts to rise and more redundancies are expected into the first half of 2021, the question of how we reskill and upskill young people and older adults in the workforce has come to the fore. The pandemic has also raised big questions about the value we place on keyworkers and what we define as essential work in a predominately knowledge-driven economy. The current Further Education system must now be geared up for this challenge, made more agile and responsive than ever if it is to meet the needs of new and evolving sectors as they thrive – or fade – in the wake of Covid-19.

Long before the virus struck the adult education and training system was struggling to meet local and national demand for skills. In Higher Education, questions were also mounting as to whether students were getting value for money – both in terms of learning and employment opportunities. But Covid has exacerbated inequalities. The Education Endowment Trust warned in July that the progress made in narrowing the education attainment gap between rich and poor over the last decade was wiped out in just a few months of the first lockdown. The challenge of levelling up has got a whole lot harder; the case for inclusive growth all more imperative.

Some key questions will include: What is the role of education when it comes to levelling up in the North of England? What national, regional and local government policy levers are available? Are new accountability and funding mechanisms needed to drive change? What role will the skills system play in driving the green economy and a renewal of advanced manufacturing?


  • Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and Labour candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire
  • David Goodhart, Head of Demography, Immigration & Integration, Policy Exchange
  • The Rt Hon. Lord David Willetts, President of the Advisory Council and Intergenerational Centre, Resolution Foundation

Chair to be confirmed.

Join the debate on twitter by using #CPPLevelup

Tracy Brabin MP

MP for Batley and Spen and Labour candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire

Tracy Brabin is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, and the Labour candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire.

Tracy grew up in a two-bed council flat on the Howden Clough Estate in Birstall, where her mother still lives. She was educated at Heckmondwike Grammar School, before going on to study Drama at Loughborough University.

Tracy was an actor and writer for more than thirty years, in addition to being a Labour Party and a trade union activist.

Elected to Parliament in October 2016, the Batley and Spen by-election was called in tragic circumstances, following the murder of sitting MP Jo Cox. She was re-elected in June 2017 and was voted in for a third time in December 2019.

During the course of the 2016/17 Parliament, Tracy served on the Women and Equalities Select Committee, before being appointed Shadow Minister for Early Years in July 2017, a role she held for more than two years before being named Shadow Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in January 2020. In April 2020, Tracy was appointed as Shadow Minister for Cultural Industries, and in December 2020 she stepped back from her frontbench role to focus on her campaign to become West Yorkshire’s first Mayor.

David Goodhart

Head of Demography, Immigration & Integration, Policy Exchange

David Goodhart is Head of Policy Exchange’s Demography, Immigration, and Integration Unit, and Director of the Integration Hub website. He is a former Director of Demos, and former Editor of Prospect magazine, which he founded in 1995. David is a prominent figure in public debate in the UK, as a well-known broadcaster, author, commentator, and journalist. He has presented several BBC Radio 4 Analysis programmes. Before Prospect, he was a correspondent for the Financial Times, including a stint in Germany during the unification period. In 2013, he published The British Dream, a book about post-war multiculturalism, national identity, and immigration. It was runner up for the Orwell Book Prize in 2014. In 2017 he published The Road to Somewhere: The new tribes shaping British politics, about the value divides in western societies, which was a Sunday Times best-seller.

The Rt Hon. Lord David Willetts

President of the Advisory Council and Intergenerational Centre, Resolution Foundation

The Rt Hon. Lord David Willetts is the President of the Resolution Foundation’s Advisory Council and Intergenerational Centre, and chaired the Foundation’s recent Intergenerational Commission. He served as the Member of Parliament for Havant (1992-2015), as Minister for Universities and Science (2010-2014) and previously worked at HM Treasury and the No. 10 Policy Unit.

Lord Willetts is a visiting Professor at King’s College London, Governor of the Ditchley Foundation, Chair of the British Science Association and a member of the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He is also an Honorary Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford. Lord Willetts has written widely on economic and social policy. His book ‘The Pinch’, which focused on intergenerational equity, was published in 2010, and he recently published ‘A University Education’.