The UK has some of the highest regional inequalities of any advanced country and is one of the most centralised countries in the industrialised world. The latest strategy to tackle regional inequality began in 2019, with a pledge to “level up” the UK.
A subsequent White Paper focused on reducing regional inequalities to drive productivity and growth across the whole UK, proposing a “revolution in local democracy” as a solution. However, the scale of the challenge to revolutionise the constitutional and economic models away from the centralised Westminster system of government is considerable.
Some of the structural factors contributing to UK regional inequality include over-centralisation; weak, ineffective institutions and policy churn; institution and policy silos; short-termism and poor-quality policy co-ordination. A stable institutional landscape; a clear devolution and decentralisation strategy; and coordination between institutions at all levels can help as well as learning lessons from past initiatives.
Regional inequalities are a national problem for the UK. While London and the South East need to continue to strengthen as a globally competitive region, the UK also needs to tackle persistent regional inequalities. If a very large part of the country is economically weak, it offsets any gains made elsewhere.
Regional inequality is a focus of The Productivity Institute, with numerous research projects addressing the different problems, causes and solutions and works closely with its eight regional productivity forums covering all of England’s regions and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Investment in Places research project
The Investment in Places research project is working with places to better understand how they can improve productivity, along with their economic and social conditions, with the aim of becoming more prosperous.