Covid has made the job of improving Ipswich four times more difficult, says national report

Ipswich Cornhill

Ipswich Cornhill before the second lockdown was imposed - experts fear it is now much more difficult to "level up" urban areas after the Covid pandemic. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The Covid pandemic has made the government's "levelling up" ambition in traditionally less prosperous towns and cities like Ipswich four times more difficult to achieve according to a new report by the influential think tank "Centre for Cities."

It warns that as businesses face more pressures and unemployment rises, there will have to be a major effort from the government if the ambition of improving life in these cities is to be achieved.

Ipswich is one of the 63 largest urban areas in the country covered by Centre for Cities reports - and is one of only three centres in the south east, alongside Basildon and Chatham in Kent, which shares some of the problems faced by northern and midlands cities according to the report.

Covid has left far more people reliant on benefit - and with many more on furlough and the fear that some of those might not have jobs to go back to at the end of the pandemic, the report says it will be more difficult for the government to target communities where help is most needed.

Towns that rely on retail and hospitality have been particularly badly hit.

The report says that the government should keep the £20 a week extra on universal credit, continue with furlough schemes as long as Covid restrictions remain in place and introduce a new voucher scheme encouraging people to spend money in local shops when the lockdown is eased.

In the long term it wants to see major investment in education and transport in towns and cities - and for local politicians to be given more power to decide how they should develop.

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Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Covid-19 will leave a lasting legacy. While the economic damage could be felt in many cities and towns for decades, it will be worse in places that the Prime Minister has promised to level up.”

Terry Hunt is chair of the Ipswich Town Deal Board which is hoping to bring £25m in finance from the government.

He said the report backed up what organisations in the town had been saying - that while Covid had not created the challenges facing Ipswich, it had accelerated the need to address them.

The Town Deal funding would be even more important for Ipswich in the wake of the pandemic and he was looking forward to getting positive news from the government.

He said: "It remains absolutely vital that we go ahead with changing the town and especially getting more people to live in the town centre."

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