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Levelling Up

August 2, 2020 3:25 PM
uugs (Thanks to William McCue for sharing their work on Unsplash.)There is no doubt about it a combination of Brexit and a feeling of being ignored helped by a completely unelectable Labour leader saw a whole swathe of "red Wall " seats fall to the Tories at the last election. The notion of levelling up was a powerful message
The Economist magazine has just completed an analysis of what is going on which is really illuminating. It found.
  1. The 10% richest areas of the UK has output per head almost 4.5 times greater than the poorest 10%
  2. Life expectancy in Glasgow is 10 years less than Westminster
  3. 41% disadvantaged 18 year olds in London go on to further education compared to 15% in Barnsley
  4. England north of a line from the Wash to the Severn is as poor as Alabama in the US South or the former East Germany
  5. Unlike other countries the big cities inside poor areas are not beacons of wealth. Only 9 of 40 metropolitan areas are richer than the UK average
  6. When compared with 28 rich countries Britain has above average Regional inequality on every measure used
As someone who lives in the prosperous half of the country it is perhaps easy to overlook these facts.
Regional policy has been tried since the 1960s with little apparent success. London in 1998 had productivity per head 65% above the UK average. By 2018 it was 77% and arguably with more office based workers able to work from home, covid will have increased the gap
Having looked at what the Government is proposing its Leader article concludes" Although Mr Johnson has an idea and a slogan, he has he has little clue about how to go about levelling up"
With the need to show the labour defectors that something is happening before the 2024 election the focus seems to be on smaller towns where smaller actions eg sprucing up the High Street can be completed in time
The Economist believes that this will do little to make real change
It advocates a more radical approach which chimes well with Liberal Democrat policies
1 Reduce Central Control : Of the richest G7 countries the UK is by some way the country that raises most tax centrally. Local business rates, council tax needs reform with more income raised and spent locally. If you want to widen a major road you shouldn't need to get Treasury approval. Local government is best placed to understand local infrastructure and housing priorities.
2 Greater devolution of power. Economic analysis shows countries with devolved systems tend to be more equal and local services provided more efficiently by people who understand local needs. The experience of German states response to covid when compared to our top down approach illustrates this perfectly
3 Focus on education A study of the rust belt cities in the US mid west showed those cities with good universities and colleges tended to attract and retain students who helped modernise the economy with growth in new industries