CHAIR OF UK2070 COMMISSION LORD KERSLAKE TO SPEAK AT NCBC NOVEMBER EVENT
Lord Kerslake, who led the Civil Service until 2014, is the chair of the UK2070 Commission, an independent inquiry into why the UK has become one of the most regionally unequal nations in Europe.
He will speak at the club on 15 November in front of an audience of senior business people and representatives from local authorities and regional economic development organisations.
The Commission’s 18-month inquiry has been informed by research carried out by a consortium of UK universities and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a US think-tank which studies quality of life. It has also held a series of regional consultations designed to help refine its proposed solutions.
In two interim reports, the Commission has already warned that the UK faces an economic tipping point brought on by decades of ineffective government policy towards the regions, with an over-centralised Westminster failing to invest adequately in the potential of provinces outside London whilst chopping and changing the agencies responsible.
The Commission’s research also suggests that Treasury rules on investment are inherently biased towards spending money in areas of the UK that are already economically successful rather than developing the untapped potential of the Midlands and the North.
Lord Kerslake warns that without major change to the way government plans and delivers investment in regional Britain, deep-rooted inequalities will worsen.
He said: “Time is not on our side. Successive governments have spent the last 50 years trying to rebalance the UK economy and create a fairer and stronger nation. Those efforts have failed and the hard evidence uncovered by our inquiry shows that we remain one of the most unequal and divided nations in Europe.
“The result is that in 2019 the UK suffers both stark differences in performance within a comparatively compact economy, and disturbing disparities in people’s life chances. A child poor enough to qualify for free school meals in the London borough of Hackney is still three times more likely to go to university than a similarly disadvantaged child in Hartlepool in County Durham.
“If we continue our current approach, those divisions will worsen, potentially to a serious degree. We need to adopt a strategy that allows London to sustain its global role whilst at the same time targeting some systematic firepower at raising the economic performance of regional Britain.
“It will not be sufficient to tinker with existing policies or make incremental changes to budgets – the system itself is consistently failing to deliver effective solutions.”
The Commission’s findings show that whilst the UK is one of the most centralised states in Europe, there is no national spatial plan to provide a framework for joined-up investment that reflects the shape of regional economies or their potential. Nor does government have a long-term vision for the country’s future.
In its second report, entitled ‘Moving Up The Gears’ the Commission makes seven detailed recommendations intended to rebalance the UK economy. They are in summary:
1] Climate Change: protect disadvantaged communities who are most at risk from its impact and use the market opportunities created by a move to a carbon zero economy to rebalance our economic geography.
2] Deliver a 20-year connectivity revolution: commit to renewing and extending out-dated transport infrastructure so that it reflects the present economy rather than the past; reconnect marginalised communities and shift towards shared transport and new technologies.
3] Create a global centre of excellence in industrial digital technologies: bring Britain’s leading regional universities together to power-up technologies that have the capacity to create 20,000 businesses, increase economic value by £1.2bn a year and upskill a million industrial workers.
4] Strengthen the foundations of local economies: provide higher quality advice for SMEs delivering local, everyday services; put refocused Further Education at the heart of a refreshed skills agenda; introduce universal standards to ensure adequate local services, particularly in marginalised communities.
5] Accelerate devolution: devolve decisions about regional economies to all regions, not just those with government-sanctioned deals; introduce Parliamentary Committees and Cabinet positions which recognise and respond to the Powerhouses of the North, Midlands, South West and South East.
6] A plan for England: introduce a spatial plan for England setting out explicit, funded priorities for coordinated, connected development which supports the UK’s global role whilst addressing regional inequalities.
7] Level the playing field for funding: on top of a £250bn UK Renewal Fund outlined in the Commission’s first report, introduce a regional investment bank network; change Treasury investment rules so that they accommodate regional variations and help rebalance the economy according to the long-term vision.
Lord Kerslake added: “Cities like Nottingham and regions like the East Midlands have real potential to help drive the future growth of the UK economy, and we need a coordinated and consistent strategy that enables them to invest for the long-term and gather sustained momentum.
“The UK’s inequalities have persisted for too long and government must start moving up the gears – first, by acknowledging that these inequalities are not a policy challenge but a strategic threat; second, by accepting that they are too complex and localised to be solved in Whitehall alone. Finally, this has to be a long-term commitment which acts as a commonly agreed guiding light.”
Rich Cooper is the president of Nottingham City Business Club, the longest-established membership organisation for business people in the city.
He said: “The second report from the UK2070 Commission says government must urgently develop a vision for the UK which decisively addresses deprivation, unlocks regional economic potential and confront the challenges presented by climate change and new technologies.
“It identifies seven national priorities for action which it believes are vital if worsening performance and widening divisions between different parts of the UK are to be avoided.
“This is the right time to hear what we can do in Nottingham to ensure that our voices are heard and I’m honoured that Lord Kerslake has asked to speak at our Club.”
Lord Kerslake’s speech will take place during the Club’s meeting at the Park Plaza Hotel on Maid Marian Way, Nottingham, with registration beginning at 11:45am. Tickets cost £27.50 for members and £39.50 for non-members. To book a place, visit the websites nottinghamcitybusinessclub.co.uk