England urgently needs a plan to devolve power to all corners of the country – including the capital

The Angel of the North. Image: Getty.

The so-called “North-South divide” is in the spotlight like never before. The North’s newspapers have banded together to demand central government takes action. Three years on, the shockwaves of Brexit might just be forcing us to look at our long-standing regional divide more clearly. But who will take action to address the UK’s regional divide – the worst in the developed world?

People living in England’s North, Midlands, South West and the other nations of the UK are right to be angry: 44 per cent of the net new jobs created since 2010 have been in London and the South East, despite this being home to only 27 per cent of the population. This gives real substance to a pervasive feeling that the country is being run by out-of-touch people in the capital with little regard for other communities.

But let’s not pretend that the current situation actually benefits most Londoners either. The capital’s vast investment in transport infrastructure actually hikes property prices; the financial and professional services sectors it specialises in can be highly exclusive; and its economic growth is often extracted from Londoners’ pockets through rent and corporate profits.

There is no doubt that London, taken as a region, gets favoured by central government. But who within that region benefits? Not the vast majority of the people who live there: Londoners experience the highest rates of poverty and inequality of both wealth and income.


This is the reality of the North-South divide. In different ways, all our regional economies are generating poverty and inequality. None of our regional economies are working in the interests of the majority of people living there, and there is common cause across our country in working to address this problem.

So why is the UK so imbalanced when other similar countries aren’t? It’s true to say that France is dominated by Paris; Germany is divided east to west, and Italy from north to south. But the UK is more regionally unequal than even these countries.

What these other countries have – and what the UK conspicuously lacks – is powerful regional and local government. In the UK alone, central government has exercised almost exclusive power over our regional economies: only 6 per cent of tax is raised outside of central government. In France the figure is 20 per cent; in Germany, 52 per cent. These countries’ regional and local authorities spend more than twice as much on economic development as a per cent of GDP compared to the UK regions. The result is that regions which are otherwise similar to the North are more prosperous – like Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia for example.

That’s why policy makers must stop pretending that it’s particularly difficult to set up new devolved institutions and support their development across England. Sub-regions, such as combined authorities, must remain the building blocks of devolution. But there are specific areas of policy – transport, trade and investment, and innovation for example – where pan-regional collaborations can support a more co-ordinated approach to strategic decision making. Initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine can, in time, help to formalise these collaborations into new institutions.  

For IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice (CEJ) we sketched out what this could look like, proposing four regions as a starting point for an England-wide conversation about regional governance.

 

Potential geographies for regional policy in England. Image: IPPR North.

But devolution can’t solve this problem alone: there is no escaping the fact that we will also need to invest more money in the regions, and this will need to be paid for. But again, there are practical ways of doing so. As we at IPPR North have previously recommended, we should look at the German “solidarity surcharge”, which raised €18 billion in 2017 and has been used to rectify Germany’s East-West regional inequality since reunification. It would raise a similar amount in this country – and would go a long way toward addressing our underinvestment in infrastructure and R&D as well as public health and education.

These are proposals that we are happy to see the UK2070 Commission have also recommended in their recent report highlighting regional inequality.

The UK’s regional divide is now one of the most corrosive problems our country faces, and neither our capital nor our regions can sustain the current situation. The government, and the opposition, need to stop pretending that their current proposals are up to this challenge and develop a much more radical programme of devolution and investment.

The solutions are there for the taking – by the plethora of Tory leadership candidates or by the Labour front bench. But who will take the opportunity to address one of our most severe injustices?

Luke Raikes is a senior research fellow at the think tank IPPR North. He tweets @lukeraikes.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.