I’m a free marketeer, but I also believe in equal opportunities. If a business thinks it’s better to set up in Reading or anywhere in the Thames Valley, it’s usually because of communications and labour markets. And a general assessment of where it’s best to be, from big brewers in the past, like Courage to Microsoft, not that long ago.
That is exactly what happened in Thames valley. As I said in one or two of my interviews, Japanese motor manufacturers went to south Wales and the northeast of England because of great and available labourers. It suited convenient government policy, but when, under another government, the roots motor company that became Chrysler went to Lithgow in Scotland to help the government. It didn’t end well because the other advantages were not there. So a memo from the man or woman from the ministry would rarely help these days.
In my view, and a free country would probably quite rightly be spiked. Levelling up might need a lot of such memos. However, so they would need to be crafted with great caution and great authority if they’re not simply to end up on the spike. On infrastructure, which one or two of my guests spoke about, quite specifically, not least Henry Morrison from the northern powerhouse projects, need to follow, demand a redundant bridge to help win a by-election means one extra mp for the party of government and a redundant bridge see also odd bits of highway and motorway in very strange places.
The northern powerhouse is different because it is needed, and solo and behold, it’s already happening but speed it up. If you shift government departments out of London and the south, qualified staff will probably in the short term, if not the medium time, and quite possibly the long term have to follow them.
It would be nice to think brilliant economists and planners in the regions would be snapped up, but one wonders if they’re there sitting awaiting the call. Why haven’t they already done it? One or two of my guests to be fair said there are many brilliant graduates in the midlands and the north who will react to it, but in my experience, I think in the main, if you shift a government department to London. Lo and behold, lots of civil servants go with it.
Plant shifts in population are tricky in principle. Post-War new towns took an age to put down roots and become real communities. Meanwhile, as peter Townsend wrote in a celebrated brilliant book on demography, the east end was killed at a stroke as a series of village-like communities were never replaced and what’s more a bit of them.
That was replaced yields. Another fascinating anecdote, lord Hesseltine, observed of canary wharf. It will never be a real community until the city types who work there also live there and send their children to school there. They don’t, and they don’t to me. As I said in all of my interviews, the cornerstone of levelling up can and should work in education. Government has control over a crucial and effective variable of school funding.
In my view, one of the standout policies of the Cameron Clegg coalition was the liberal democrat david law’s pupil premium. It was real cash, maybe not enough! That’s another debate you can have, but it was real cash targeted at underperforming, school children. Now leap forward to now, sir Kevin collins, post covid catch-up plan is such a scheme awaiting the green light, a master plan ready to go. It could be expanded to be focused not just on post covid catch up, but catch up generally then underperforming parts of the country would have the vital tool for levelling up and that is better-educated children shovel ready to transform their part of the country and their lives.
Much of the rest of it seems to me to be like slightly dubious social engineering market bucking, a sort of tory five-year plan and bits of infrastructure where we probably don’t need them and which we probably can’t afford. Anyway, welcome to the GB news: youtube channel, you can watch us live 24 hours a day, catch up on your favourite shows and join in the conversation in the comments below don’t forget to subscribe and you’ll never miss any of our exclusive content.