England ‘has immature central-local govt relationship’

MediaCity, Salford, Greater Manchester

England has an “immature formalisation of the central-local government relationship” versus comparable countries, according to the latest State of the North report by influential think tank IPPR North.

“Comparing internationally, local government in the UK is underpowered at all levels,” said the report.

“Not only is our subregional tier, namely combined authorities, lacking in powers where it exists, but our local tier, local councils, are substantially underpowered compared to comparable countries …

“England has an immature formalisation of the central-local government relationship versus comparable countries.

“Local government is underpowered, and unlike all international peers investigated here there is no constitutional protection or right to local self-determination …”

In the report, the North of England is defined as the North West, Yorkshire & the Humber, and the North East.

The report said that if the North of England were a country, it would be second only to Greece for the lowest levels of investment in the OECD

“Of the 38 OECD countries plus the North, the UK comes 35, the North comes 38, and Greece comes 39 for the lowest levels of investment,” said the report.

“Countries like Slovakia, Poland, Czechia and Hungary all experience greater investment than the UK and the North.

“If the UK had seen the same investment as the OECD average, around £397 billion more would have been invested from 2017 to 2020, while around £195 billion more would have been invested in the North.”

Report author and IPPR North research fellow Marcus Johns said: “The UK stands out internationally for all the wrong reasons.

“Of all the advanced economies around the world, ours is the most regionally divided and getting worse – the North is at the sharp end of these divides and that’s a barrier to prosperity.

“But what’s even more unacceptable is that our country is divided by design. It is the result of decisions.

“The North’s strengths are national strengths. Northern prosperity can be national prosperity. It’s up to the government to unlock this potential, by acknowledging that it has to change, and by enabling empowered, well-resourced local government to coordinate and deliver long term local visions for change. There are plenty of examples out there for how we can do better”.

IPPR North Director Zoë Billingham said: “The international evidence is clear: governments that let go of power and collaborate positively with local places can succeed in levelling up.

“We must turn the economic fortunes of our country around. Our leaders need to think big and look beyond our borders for inspiration.

“Political leaders need to ‘zoom out’ and learn lessons from our international neighbours to achieve regional growth and narrow our aching divides.

“We know that private investment follows public investment. We also know that the government has the choice to invest for the long-term in regions like the North to take the UK from a low investment economy, to one that, finally, thrives.”