Our Investing in regional equality – lessons from four cities report looks at case studies in four international cities which have had significant success in addressing regional inequalities.
The report emphasises that overcoming social and economic inequality is difficult and there is no one simple fix. It will take a mixture of approaches, along with considerable long-term funding, to be effective and deliver real benefits to those most in need. But is there one approach that has the most potential to deliver meaningful change? Some of the participants of the report, including the authors and representatives from the case studies, share their thoughts and answers to the question: In your opinion, what is one of the most effective tools that a government has at its disposal to begin the process of tackling regional inequalities and improving people's lives?
Professor Dr Gunther Schnabl, Professor of international economics and economic policy at Leipzig University: "In the past two decades, the increasingly expansionary monetary policies of the central banks have been at the roots of growing regional inequalities, as they have favoured large enterprises, investment banks and public administrations, while at the same time paralysing growth.
"Therefore, the most important step for tackling regional inequalities and improving people's lives would be to gradually exit from the unprecedented low interest rate policies."
Ted Howard, President, Democracy Collaborative: "Addressing regional inequalities cannot be successfully addressed solely by public investment or regeneration funds coming out of Whitehall. If the UK government is serious about correcting regional imbalances, it will want to learn from past failures, but more importantly from new successes already taking place at the community level.
"Places like Preston, Lancashire and North Ayrshire in Scotland are adopting community wealth building (CWB) strategies that are producing tangible, beneficial results while rewiring their local economic realities. Providing targeted support for CWB should be a central plank in the UK's 'levelling up' ambitions.
"Only then will the UK truly rebalance the economy by making wealth work for all."
Professor Anne Green, City-REDI, University of Birmingham: "Tackling regional inequalities and improving people's lives requires a coherent and integrated approach to regional and sub-regional economic development across different policy domains.
"A government needs to ensure that governance structures enable a clear line of sight and facilitate effective joint working. Collaboration between place-based policies that address local challenges, and place-sensitive national policies can be effective.
"This means sub-national institutions need to have appropriate statutory powers, responsibilities and resources to develop and implement a strategic approach to regional economic development over the long-term, with capacity for monitoring and evaluating the success and failures of policies."
Emily Garr Pacetti, Community Affairs Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland: "Governments can convene diverse people to address hard-to-solve problems, seed a common vision and help scale solutions. This is especially true for local governments, which can bring communities together from distinct geographies – from the neighbourhood level to the broader surrounding region, to understand the current economic landscape, identify common challenges and opportunities, and promote cross-sector partnerships that will serve the public interest well into the future."
Jeffrey Matsu, CIPFA Chief Economist: "Measurement is necessary for there to be transparency and accountability in public spending. The presence of a robust framework for measuring such activity can benefit government in three specific ways.
"First, what gets measured gets done – there is no greater clarity of purpose than when outcomes have been defined at the design stage of policy formation. Knowing the end game and the parameters that define its success must be baked-in from the start.
"Second, keep a close eye on the ball – progress needs to be monitored at pre-agreed intervals so that the inevitable course-corrections and fine tuning can occur in real time.
"Finally, identify what works and learn from the mistakes – a post-mortem evaluation should encourage an array of perspectives to improve future policy initiatives.
"A more rigorous evidence-based approach to public policy may, one day, help to reduce glaring regional inequalities from materialising in the first place."
Dr Abigail Taylor, City-REDI, University of Birmingham: "In the first instance, I would argue that improving formal and informal collaboration between central government, local government, the private sector and citizens is important in beginning the process of tackling regional inequalities and improving people's lives.
"The case studies show the value of building strong strategic relationships at the local, city-regional, regional and national levels in creating a clear policy vision, securing long-term funding to deliver it and achieving desired outputs and outcomes.
"Public finance professionals have a key role to play in building and maintaining such relationships."
Emmanuel Bioteau, Professor of Geography, University of Angers: "In France, the government has a study and programming tool that makes it possible to balance regional development policies and to anticipate future development paths: the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion. This first lever for action is therefore based on the search for balance and cohesion through planning.
"A second lever is possible at the national level through the egalitarian distribution of financial means to the various regional communities. Nevertheless, with the latest reforms concerning decentralisation in France, the approach has evolved. Regional equality is no longer based on identical treatment, or motivated by the objective of balance, but on the powers given to the regions to agree on their own priorities within a framework imposed by the State.
"The low budgetary autonomy of local and regional authorities in France (regions, departments, municipalities and their inter-municipalities), as well as the rather restrictive framework of the competences which they exercise on a compulsory basis, limit the risks of excessive imbalances between the same territories. The recent appearance of metropoles strengthens the competitive playing field between metropolitan territories and their neighbourhoods."
Dr Fumi Kitagawa, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Edinburgh Business School: "The government's key role is to mobilise local actors to share place-based strategic intelligence in order to leverage their learning and networking abilities.
"Supporting a multi-level governance structure is needed to implement a shared vision with a wide inclusion of actors. Further work is required on how to incorporate the principle of inclusive growth agenda as part of levelling up processes, and understanding different roles played by national government, regions, city regions, cities, towns and communities."
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