Recent coverage of a report by the Policy Exchange, a think tank closely linked to the Tories, has been dominated by one rather trite idea – the suggestion that people should move from Liverpool, Bradford and Sunderland to the south and, specifically, London, Oxford and Cambridge. This is a rather simplistic reading of the report. The report suggests that economic regeneration has not had the effect we might expect or hope and that some northern cities will struggle economically. The three that have been the focus are chosen because they are neighbours to what the report considers more economically viable cities – Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. They predict inevitable population decline and suggest that more space be made available in the south where opportunities will arise. I am no economist and cannot comment on this. But it is simplistic to think that that is the way the world works.
Many economists have the bad habit of assuming that we all think the same way they do. We are all calculating the best options for ourselves at every moment so that we can maximise our income, prospects or whatever. They do not cope well with the reality – that is that we actually make decisions in very different ways. So the way in which the report analyses the prospects for the future is based upon a model of humans that do not exist. At the same time, their conclusions are presented in a way that only an audience of economists would find acceptable. Politically it is unaccapetable. Hence the emotional response, the headline coverage and the instant dismmissal of the report by the Tories.
What has been missed is a more interesting question, and one that has been posed by others. Why is it that those areas of the country that receive regeneration funding (and let’s not forget there are parts of London and the south that receive such funds) are largely the same areas that received similar funding 20 or 30 years ago? What impact has this money had? Has it been wasted or would those same regions been in a worse condition if they had not received the funding? These are serious questions that have been completely lost in the instant furore prompted by the headline conclusions.
To read the report, visit: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/Home.aspx
For coverage further, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/aug/13/conservatives.regeneration and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7558742.stm