Report calls on leaders to “think big” to tackle UK’s severe regional inequality
An independent inquiry into the UK’s severe regional inequality has said that Government must learn the lessons of the past and “think big” if it is serious about levelling up the UK economy.
The UK2070 Commission inquiry, informed by six universities including The University of Manchester, looked back over the last 50 years to identify the factors that have led to the current situation. It found that the UK is the most unequal large country in the developed world - the economic gap between different parts of the country has widened to the point where London’s growth since 2010 is nine times higher than the area covered by the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Former Civil Service Head Lord Kerslake, who chaired the inquiry, warned Government that it must “go big or go home”. He said: “Many people in Britain feel left behind by growth elsewhere, and that has contributed to an acrimonious debate about Europe. We now face a decade of potential disruption - leaving the European Union, confronting the impact of climate change and adjusting to the fourth industrial revolution.”
“Our research shows clearly that these inequalities did not grow up overnight - they reflect an over-centralised system which fails to comprehend the reality of regional need and comes up with policies which are either under-resourced, too fragmented or too short-lived to make a difference. Government must think big, plan big and act at scale. Bluntly, if it can’t go big, it should go home.”
The inquiry’s final report calls on Government to stand alongside business and community organisations, and make a public pledge to tackle inequality through a programme of action:
• Triple the new ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ to £15bn per annum, continuing for 20 years
• A ‘connectivity revolution’ to transform connections between cities, within cities and beyond cities to towns - infrastructure investment needs to increase to at least 3% of GDP per annum
• Create new ‘Networks of Excellence” in regional Research and Development to match the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge
• Shift power and funding away from Westminster & Whitehall in a radical programme of devolution
• Strengthen the local economies in disadvantaged towns
• Tackle the UK’s historic underperformance on skills
• Establish a network of regional centres of excellence for science, business and technology
• Increase investment in applied research in leading universities by 30 per cent
“The challenge of the Commission has been to turn sceptics into supporters to focus on UK’s long-standing regional inequality problem, and its impact on people’s livelihoods and wellbeing,” said Professor Cecilia Wong from The University of Manchester. “Manchester Urban Institute played a key role in advocating the importance of injecting spatial thinking and analysis into policymaking, and holding both national and local government to account.”
Our analysis was used to support the evidence base in the second and final reports of the Commission, and it has attracted discussion with different government agencies and departments. However, this is only a start - universities should continue to work with other key actors to push the Commission’s agenda forward, in order to achieve a fairer and better UK for future generations.