We Need to Think Bolder if We Are to Rebalance the UK Economy

The recent report by the Centre for Cities was a startling yet perhaps unsurprising indictment of the UK economy in 2014. London dominates Britain more than at any other time in our history. Why, you may argue, is this even unhealthy; surely whilst London prospers the rest of the UK benefits too? Put simply, the rest of the UK does benefit but it also pays a price because as London has grown, it has become a black hole sucking in more and more talent from elsewhere to the detriment of local economies from Inverness to Plymouth.

All political parties have argued the need for a great rebalancing of the UK economy yet have offered little way in terms of substantial setups. The Government’s flagship regional Growth Fund is one such policy and has made a marked difference. In some regions such as the East Midlands, job creation is seeing a mini boom.  Relocation however is one aspect which sees far too little political air time.  The one move of real political courage was to relocate the BBC studios from London to Salford. It has been an overwhelming success which reaches far beyond the simple relocation of jobs from London to Manchester.

Of course, the focus on any regional growth programme should be first and foremost about sustainable, private sector growth. Public Sector institutions and private investment are however, at times inextricably linked. The BBC’s move has improved the image of Manchester, attracting young, creative talent and helping to expand the media industry in the region. These factors in turn have led to greater private sector investment and, in the long term, will make Manchester a place where businesses are more attracted to relocate.

Why then should we not look at further bold relocations to rebalance the UK? Perhaps the inconvenient truth is that this issue simply does not feature as prominently as perhaps it should do. Is moving Parliament to Birmingham such a nonsensical idea? Are moving our leading museums to Sheffield such a backwards step? If you believe in the need to transform our regions to help them attract more private sector investment and, put frankly, improve their image, then these are valid debates we should be having.

Bold moves such as this desperately need to be advocated by more politicians because the gap between London and the rest of the UK has grown so terrifyingly wide. Travelling from London to the rest of the UK often feels more alien than travelling to other major European cities. London’s identity is its own – its excellent success has allowed it to prosper in a way which means it is now unrecognisable from many parts of the UK. Long term, our national identity will be threatened because London has the potential to warp into its own state, distant and non-needing of any other UK city.

When the UK economy was on its knees after the financial crisis in 2009, the Government stepped in to provide a stimulus effectively propping the UK economy up until it recovered. London is creating ten times as many private sector jobs than anywhere else in Britain. It is prospering. Why then should no one argue that some UK institutions currently based in London such as museums or Civil Service departments not be relocated to help cities outside of London prosper until they can create enough private investment to recover and prosper themselves.