Thursday, 8 December 2016

Anything but a United Kingdom …

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian – under the above heading – is as follows:

A number of political parties based far away from Westminster, including Mebyon Kernow and Plaid Cymru, have long campaigned for an Economic Fairness Act.

It may not sound exciting, but such an Act would ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom would get their fair share of government investment, and it would commence the rebalancing of the UK economy away from its present fixation on London and the South East of England.

The importance of this campaign is shown by the recent statement from the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, warning that inequality in the UK is becoming more pronounced.

And is it any wonder? I have certainly raised such concerns in this newspaper column on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, I wrote about how an independent report had detailed a shocking bias in how arts funding was distributed around the UK. The most telling figure was that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport had distributed £450 million of public funding to what it deemed “major national cultural institutions” – with London receiving £49 per head of population compared to just £1 per person outside the capital.

And some 18 months back, I commented on the research from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, which documented another massive bias towards London in terms of infrastructure investment. It concluded that most other areas will be getting a raw deal with planned public investment per head in London being recorded at £5,304.73 compared to £805.29 in the South West.

I have often commented on the unfairness of funding settlements for councils in rural areas and, earlier this year, even highlighted the irony of Conservative MPs lambasting their own London-centric Government for “shifting funding from rural to metropolitan areas” and describing the funding as “extraordinarily unfair,” with one even stating that his local council had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but had “gone through the surface of the bone” and, in some instances, was “sucking out the marrow.”

And in the most recent Autumn Statement, the monies allocated to the Local Growth Fund were much less than had been anticipated.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the Bank of England’s chief economist has issued a challenge that regional inequality is among the most important issues facing the UK.

In an interview with the BBC, he said that these long-standing gaps “have nudged a little wider over the course of the UK's recovery” and “if you look at the level of income within region, per head, it is only really London and the South East where that is back above the levels it was before the crisis.”

Thank you for your efforts, Mr Haldane. I just hope the Government will start listening.

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