Despite the government’s commitment to the “levelling up” policy, a new study from think-tank IPPR North has found that the north of England is facing significant neglect. The study states that if it were a country, only Greece would see less public and private investment than the area above the Midlands. The think-tank claims that Britain and the north of England are held back by “vast inequalities” and “systematic under-investment” in areas such as research and development, social infrastructure, and transport.
The study’s findings come just days after the government was accused of favouring relatively affluent south-eastern seats in the latest allocation of £2.1 billion funding by Michael Gove’s Levelling Up department. The allocation of funding has led to criticism, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s own constituency in North Yorkshire was awarded £19 million for regeneration, despite being one of the wealthiest areas.
Northern Productivity and Pay Gap
The think-tank’s study found that productivity is about £7 lower per hour worked in the north than England’s average, and pay is £1.60 lower. These findings highlight the ongoing economic disparities between the north and south of England, with the north consistently lagging behind in terms of economic growth and prosperity.
According to IPPR North, the north of England is facing a triple whammy of low investment, low productivity, and low pay. This has led to a widening gap between the north and south of the country, with the north facing significant economic challenges that are holding back the entire country.
Investment and Economic Growth
The think-tank’s study also found that, out of 38 OECD, the UK is 35th for investment as a proportion of the national economy. Countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, and Ireland ranked higher, while Costa Rica, Luxembourg, and Greece ranked lower.
These findings highlight the ongoing issue of under-investment in the north of England, which is holding back economic growth and prosperity in the region. The lack of investment in research and development, social infrastructure, and transport is having a significant impact on the economic prospects of the north.
The study’s author, Marcus Johns, said: “Of all advanced economies, ours is the most regionally divided and getting worse. The north is at the sharp end of these divides and that’s a barrier to prosperity.”
He added: “But what’s even more unacceptable is that… it is the result of decisions. The north’s strengths are national strengths. Northern prosperity can be national prosperity.”
The Way Forward
The think-tank argues that in order to address the economic disparities between the north and south of England, the government needs to take a more proactive approach to investment and economic development in the north. This includes empowering local governments to co-ordinate and deliver long-term local visions for change, as well as investing in research and development, social infrastructure, and transport.
In addition, the government needs to address the issue of low pay in the north of England, which is contributing to the widening gap between the north and south of the country. This can be done by raising the minimum wage and providing more support to low-income families.
The study’s author, Marcus Johns, said: “It’s up to the government to unlock this potential by enabling empowered, well-resourced local government to co-ordinate and deliver long-term local visions for change.”
In response to the study, a government spokesperson said that the report “fundamentally misrepresents the clear steps we are taking to level up the region” and spread opportunity through initiatives such as freeports, devolution, and attracting inward investment. The spokesperson also highlighted the £4 billion Levelling Up Fund and £3 billion Towns Fund as examples of the government’s commitment to investing in the north of England.
However, the government’s response has been met with skepticism by many, who argue that the allocation of funding has not been equitable and has favored relatively affluent areas in the south-east. Critics also argue that the government’s response has not addressed the underlying issues of low investment, low productivity, and low pay in the north of England.
In conclusion, the study by IPPR North highlights the ongoing neglect of the north of England by the government, despite its commitment to the “levelling up” policy. The study found that the north of England is facing significant under-investment, low productivity, and low pay, which are holding back economic growth and prosperity in the region. The government’s response to the study has been met with scepticism, with critics arguing that the government needs to take a more proactive approach to addressing the economic disparities between the north and south of England.
The North is underserved in terms of public funding and opportunity?
This report, valuable though it is, contains little in the way of shocking revelations. Countless reports have come to this conclusion from different perspectives and approaches, what is particularly interesting however, is the report’s use of international case studies of best practice.
Looking at examples as diverse as local transport investment in Ibaraki, Japan to the net zero transition in Lulea, Sweden, the report draws useful lessons that are applicable to the North of England. Translating this into practice in the North however, is quite another matter, and is, as is often the case, the missing piece.
Calling for fiscal devolution for instance, as the report does, is all well and good, but is an issue that is far more complex than most of its advocates (author included) would be willing to admit. All Mayoral Combined Authorities in England have different devolution settlements with different responsibilities, and therefore different requirements for any settlements on greater fiscal devolution will have to be bespoke. The picture only gets more complex when you consider the smorgasbord of overlapping levels of local government that sits below MCAs, and how their potential power to raise and spend money would sit underneath those of MCAs (as well as those councils that do not).
It is this issue, of turning policy into practice, that Curia’s own Levelling Up Commission will address, seeking to consider how the aims of the levelling up agenda can be tangibly achieved from the perspective of public service design and delivery, across four policy areas:
- Health and Social Care
- Housing and Homelessness
- Education, Skills and Training
- Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation
If you wish to find out more about the Levelling Up Commission, please get in touch with our policy lead at firstname.lastname@example.org.