Where is Line of Duty set? On a plausible liminal city

The main cast of Line of Duty. Image: BBC.

Line of Duty has created a plausible fictional city in which AC12 can hunt down bent coppers and corrupt politicians. And it’s taken care over every detail from its geography to its power structures.

The unnamed city has an elected mayor, as well a police & crime commissioner and a city council. It has both a train and a bus system. When Vihan tries to run in season 5 episode 1, he is brought down in front of a bus queue and half of them don’t even look up from their phones.

It’s also got at least three hospitals: City, South Central and St Anthonys. Both Birmingham and Nottingham have a City hospital, but there are no South Central hospitals in the UK. The only St Anthonys is a private one in Cheam. Line of Duty is not set in Cheam.

The unamed city has two local papers, the Herald and the Evening Post, but does seem to be mysteriously free from copies of the Metro scattered everywhere. The names of the two publications evoke local papers perfectly, whilst clearly not being either the Birmingham Mail or the Manchester Evening News. Plymouth has a Herald but Line of Duty is not set in Plymouth.

The neighbourhood names are the really great touch. The phone box in season five is in Moss Heath, which is a name that suggests both Manchester’s Moss-side and Birmingham’s many Heaths. There’s a Moss Heath outside Formby, but that’s an actual heath and is unlikely to have a phone box with cards for Nikki9.

The golf club where Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan was recruited by Huntley into the organised crime group is in Edge Park. It’s a leafy and well-to-do surburb, according to the scripts. There are lots of Edge’s in various cities in the Midlands and the North – I used to live at Netheredge in Sheffield. But there’s no Edge Park. There is Edgsbaston in Birmingham, which is indeed a leafy suburb.

The police station at the heart of season 1 is in Kingsgate: perhaps one of the most generic placenames possible, and which seems very plausible as a English city name. Birmingham has both Kings Heath and a Kings Norton, and a Queensgate. Manchester has a Deansgate. This sort of precisely wrong naming infuses the city with plausiblity: each new name seems probable because it echoes parts of real cities we know.

Details like the roads (the M6, A38 and A51 are all named) and the maps do strongly push towards Birmingham. And so far in season 5, we’ve seen both Midlands Ballistics Forensics Laboratory and a Nottingham Forest scarf. The first season was filmed in Birmingham, and subsequent seasons have been filmed in Belfast. Both cities provide a plausible post-industrial urban landscape. Yet the city remains determinedly “the city”.

Why is it fictionalised? Why not name a real city, with real police forces, real hospitals and real suburbs? Line of Duty strongly recalls ‘Red Riding’ which was explicitly set in Yorkshire, but was also set in the past. It was easy for viewers to create a distance from it using time. The fictional city also means writer Jed Mercurio’s sources are protected, and the show does not accidentally damage any genuine investigations.

By making Line of Duty about a contemporary unnamed but plausible corrupt city, it makes it applicable to any city. It exists in a liminal space where it could be your city, and your officials. Just so long as one of them has a name beginning with ‘H’.


As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.