Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, has warned that the Industrial Strategy launched by government this week could be doomed to failure if the “hard-wired bias” towards the South East isn’t acknowledged and dealt with.
Speaking today at the annual conference of Universities UK in London, Rotheram called on the audience of vice-chancellors and senior academics to play a deeper and more integral role in driving economic growth, and working with the new devolved structures in city regions, citing the work of the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University in helping reshape their local economy.
However, Rotheram added a warning that structural bias towards London, the South East and the so-called Golden Triangle could jeopardise growth prospects in the very areas that possessed the greatest productive potential:
He said: “Simply focusing on areas that are already overheating is one of the biggest obstacles to a national Industrial Strategy. The greatest potential to boost UK productivity lies is areas beyond the M25, but this will not happen without radical structural and cultural change.”
Among the evidence of structural bias cited by the Metro Mayor were the promotion of Crossrail 2 ahead of Northern Powerhouse Rail; an ongoing infrastructure investment imbalance that favours the South by a factor of 6 to 1, the Treasury’s use of a cost-benefit ratio evaluation model that discriminates in favour of areas with higher incomes, land values and tax receipts; and a South East-favouring imbalance in UK Research Council awards.
Rotheram called for a new Treasury evaluation model explicitly linked to the re-balancing potential of projects: “We need a thorough and unequivocal commitment to greater devolution as the only way to overcome hard-wired bias and metro-centric default positions.
“Our universities have a massive role to play in creating alternative centres of innovation and growth and becoming active agents for a genuinely devolved and balanced UK economy.”