The Latest on Levelling Up

When they are not discussing Prime Minister Johnson’s drinking parties, policymakers in the UK have been actively engaged in an interesting set of debates about “levelling up,” the British term for addressing the UK’s tremendous regional economic divides between North and South.  This debate is long overdue as regional economic disparities in the UK are about as bad as those we have here in the US.  To give a few data points, people who live in London make an average of $20,000 more per year than a resident of Northern England and the average male in Westminster (near London) has a life expectancy that is ten years longer than his counterpart in Glasgow, Scotland.   Productivity levels in the South can be as much as 40% higher than in the North.

This week the British government released its official work plan for Levelling Up the United Kingdom.    This is an ambitious plan which we might compare to some aspects of the US’s Build Back Better proposals.  It calls for major new investment to increase R&D spending, to expand broadband access, develop talent, and devolve political authority to the local and regional levels.  So far, the effort has received mixed reviews (you can see some economic development-focused commentary here and here). Many reactions applaud the high-level focus on regional disparities, but note that the proposed investments and new program efforts are insufficient to move the needle on generating real prosperity in the UK’s left-behind places.   Much of the discussion is very relevant to our own ongoing debates on how to build a more equitable and more compassionate post-pandemic economy here in the US.