UK2070 Commission Report

The following article was written by Richard Honnoraty.

The UK2070 Commission published its first report “Fairer and Stronger – Rebalancing the UK Economy” at the end of May.

The Commission’s remit is as follows: “The UK2070 Commission is an independent inquiry into city and regional inequalities in the UK. Chaired by Lord Kerslake, it has been set up to conduct a review of the policy and spatial issues related to the UK’s long-term city and regional development.”

The Commission is due to issue a final report in January 2020 so the current report should probably be regarded as an interim document and, in fact, the Commission has invited comments to be submitted to them for consideration by 29 June 2019, although we understand that responses after that date will still be welcome.

The findings of the report confirm what we already know. Here are just a few examples: “A huge gulf exists between the UK’s best and worst performing regions and towns.” “The UK’s richest region (London) has a 50% higher level of productivity than any other nation or region in the UK.” “This gap can be expected to grow with over 50% of future job growth going to London and the wider south east, if we do nothing.”

The report looks at the lessons that can be learned from past experience; the UK’s lack of planning, regional policy and so on. It suggests that the German reunification process may offer possibilities for tackling our own regional inequalities.

The report offers an agenda for action – what should be done – under the following headings: Effective Devolution, Harnessing the New and Local Economies, Aligning our Ambitions, and Establishing a UK Renewal Fund. In my opinion, it is here that the report falls short. Effective Devolution and Aligning our Ambitions build on existing inadequate and discredited frameworks. Is the Commission merely suggesting adding further layers of government and bureaucracy to an already overly complex system? It is not clear that the “super” regions have any form of identity, other than to solve a perceived spatial problem. The role of the national government in these plans is also far from clear.

Setting up innovation hubs is a brilliant idea, but this would be hugely expensive and difficult in an environment where the talent required is in huge demand. Similarly, a UK renewal fund is absolutely essential. The figure quoted, though, at £10BN per annum would be way too low. Who would provide this funding and where would it come from, given that the UK government has likely boxed itself into a corner by moving the deficit on to others? At some stage the government will have to repair this damage so funding for renewal may not then be a national priority.

To be fair, the Commission is asking a lot of itself to envision where we want to be in the future and how we should get there, especially when technologies and economies are evolving at such a rapid rate. On the other hand, if it is to be taken seriously, it needs to be far more radical and innovative. The report’s findings are hugely valuable but some of the recommendations bring back memories of the lost opportunities of the 1960s and 70s. A pedestrian, convoluted approach is no longer adequate in the current age. It is also essential to identify the current key actors, especially those with a global reach, as they will have a profound impact on any national and regional strategies.

Fairer and Stronger – Rebalancing the UK Economy; well worth a look. Follow the link to the link to the Executive Summary.

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