Leave a comment
Be the first to add a comment.
Philip McCann’s lecture at the latest City Horizons event this week offered a call-to-arms on the need to end the UK’s top-down, centralised system of governance, which he argues is failing to address regional economic disparities across the country. The lauded professor, who is one of the world’s most widely recognised economic geographers, has spent years getting to grips with every conceivable dataset on the UK economy for his book The UK Regional-National Economic Problem, and his findings pose a challenge to policymakers at all levels.
McCann’s central argument is that the prevailing political narrative of the UK as a dynamic economy driven by innovation and a world-class services sector is fatally flawed – and is the product of the London bubble in which policy-makers, power brokers and the media (and yes, think tanks) are based.
In fact, the UK economy is ranked only 13th in the EU in terms of GDP per worker, and when you take out what McCann describes as the “London productivity premium”, the picture looks even gloomier. Without the wealth and productivity of the capital and its hinterland, the UK – and England in particular – performs very poorly indeed, with around half the UK population living in areas where income and productivity are similar to the former East Germany, and which are less affluent than the US state of Mississippi.
Globalisation has impacted the different regions of the UK in drastically different ways – and the upshot, McCann argues, is that we need a ‘big bang’ approach to devolution. That means giving regions across the UK real powers at a level which allows for planning and implementation of major infrastructure development based upon strong knowledge of local conditions and needs.
In particular, McCann believes that the UK can learn from places like the Nordic countries and the Netherlands (his current home), where grass-roots level plans for land use, industry and local economies carry real weight. He asked whether economic policy made by civil servants based in London could really take account of, for example, the auto manufacturing supply chains in the West Midlands.
Of course, progress has been made in recent years to start to change the UK’s overly-centralised system of governance, especially with the ongoing city-region devolution agenda. But McCann argues that there needs to be a fundamental change in “narratives and mind-sets” across the country, and believes that ultimately the UK needs to move in a more federalist direction to really address the regional economic disparities his research highlights.
Many of the points made by McCann in his lecture reflect the findings of our recent report, Competing with the Continent, which highlighted that while London is Europe’s biggest economy, most UK cities are lagging behind European counterparts when it comes to productivity, skills and innovation. To address these regional inequalities, it’s vital that the Government strengthens and extends the devolution process, by giving places the powers they need – and which many of their European counterparts already enjoy – to grow their local economies.
Watch highlights from Philip McCann’s lecture here.
Be the first to add a comment.