“The Midlands and the North of England are more exposed to Brexit than any other region in Europe”

The St George’s flag flies over Teesside. Image: Getty.

The very areas of the UK which voted Leave in June 2016 are likely to be the ones hardest hit by Brexit. Our research on the likely economic consequences of leaving the European Union on different regions and industries is consistent with the recently leaked government analysis which suggests that London will be one of the areas least hit in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The north-east of England, meanwhile, will be one of the worst affected.

An important element here is that these regions (and the sectors of the economy based there) have little representation in the Brexit negotiations and rarely figure in media discussions. When it comes to the potential impact of Brexit, the most prominent stories are those with underlying political or business interests. For example, the case for special treatment of particular industries after Brexit tends to revolve around financial services, automobile and aerospace firms.

On the one hand this is because these industries are widely understood as critical for the UK economy. But it’s worth noting that these industries also have strong lobbying power and access to government policymakers. In contrast, many other parts of the UK economy do not. Our analysis suggests that, in reality, it is many of the less high-profile sectors – and the regions where they are located – that could be the most exposed to Brexit.

We examined the extent to which British industries depend on trade with the EU. On the basis of an analysis of global trade patterns across 43 countries and 54 industries, we were able to calculate a Brexit risk-exposure index.

We did this for each UK sector under a “no deal” Brexit scenario in which much of UK trade faces severe disruptions and impediments. We also put together a “hyper-competitive” scenario in which UK industries can rapidly adapt and mitigate against the effects of losing single market access.

In our analysis, an industry’s exposure to Brexit is defined by the extent it is dependent on products or services that cross a UK-EU border at least once. We calculated exposure levels for different industries. They indicate how much the industry has to restructure its supply chains and employees to mitigate against the losses caused by reduced post-Brexit trade and movement with the EU. This gives us a picture of which industries are likely to be hit hardest by a no-deal Brexit and which ones will most likely remain virtually unaffected.

Deal or no deal

Across the UK, the results for a no-deal Brexit scenario show:

  • More than 2.5m jobs are directly at risk.
  • Almost £140bn of UK economic activity annually is directly at risk.
  • Many important manufacturing and primary industries are at risk, but so are many service industries – not just financial services.
  • Many of these services are not only exported directly to EU countries, but are also sold to UK manufacturing firms who then export to the EU.
  • Workers in the jobs at risk are on average slightly more productive than the average British worker – so Brexit is likely to exacerbate the UK’s productivity problems.

The findings show that, in 15 out of 54 industries, more than 20 per cent (and up to 36 per cent) of economic activity is at risk from Brexit. Industries include fisheries, chemicals and motor vehicle manufacturing.

GDP exposure to Brexit of European regions. Image: Chen et al (2018).

The industries facing the highest risks overall, and likely to be the hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit, are service industries such as professional, scientific, administrative and technical services. Others at high risk include the wholesale trades, legal and accounting services, retail trade, warehousing, land transport services, computer programming, and activities that support financial services. These are all industries which are dissipated across the wider economy and have very little structured lobbying power or media profiles.

Alternatively, in a “hyper-competitive scenario” – where UK industries can rapidly adjust to life outside the single market by sourcing parts in the UK that are currently sourced from the EU – our findings suggest that increases in UK employment and GDP could be about one-third of the losses in a no-deal scenario. So the risks for the UK would be much less in this scenario.

But current UK productivity figures suggest that most of the UK economy is nowhere near being hyper-competitive, so this case appears to be largely unrealistic.

Sector and region inequality

Our research also found that financial services is one of the least vulnerable sectors to Brexit with an exposure level of 8 per cent of its GDP being at risk. This is still significant, but it is low in comparison to many other sectors – largely because the financial services sector is already highly globalised and therefore displays a low dependence on EU markets.

Brexit vote map. Image: Chris Green.

Instead of financial services, greater emphasis should be placed on helping other, much more exposed sectors. Those that are likely to be the hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit are a range of other services industries. But these are parts of the economy which don’t lobby Westminster and rarely get the attention they need.

Our other analyses also show that it is the Midlands and the North of England which are by far the most vulnerable. They are more exposed to Brexit than any other region in Europe. The reason is that the Midlands and north of England are much more dependent on EU markets for their trade than London, the South East or Scotland.

As such, in the UK-EU negotiations there is no real representation from either the most exposed sectors or the most exposed regions. Instead, the focus of government discussions tends to be on those sectors and regions which are actually the least exposed parts of the UK economy. This means that whatever is finally negotiated is unlikely to alleviate the effects of Brexit on the vast majority of the UK.

 


Raquel Ortega-Argilés, Chair in Regional Economic Development, University of Birmingham and Philip McCann, Chair in Urban and Regional Economics, University of Sheffield.

The ConversationThis article was published in conjunction with the UK in a Changing Europe initiative. Wen Chen, Bart Los, Mark Thissen and Frank Van Oort were co-investigators on the research mentioned.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.