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Scandal of Northern inequality

“Inequality between our regions are not inevitable. They are a product of policy choices in the design of our economy and democracy…” State of the North – Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Report 2024

By Nikola Bryce (Workers Party GB Writers Group)

In February 2022 the Tories published their Levelling Up White Paper. However 2 years later, according to a recently published IPPR Report, the situation couldn’t be worse as it is revealed living outside London and the South East is bad for your health, wealth and opportunities, with the gap only set to widen. 

HMS flagship Useless

The Tories flagship policy promised to ‘level up’ the country by reducing regional disparities by 2030. Purported to transform local communities by rectifying much of Britain’s regional economic divide, it has done nothing to stem the widening gap of the country’s inequality.

Councils working against the odds 

Council budgets have been increasingly stretched since the Tories came into power in 2010. Austerity (an ideology not a panacea), the cost of living crisis and inflation, have all contributed to the immense pressure local authority budgets are under. 800 libraries and 1,086 swimming pools across the country have been closed, replaced with a pandemic of potholes and privatisation. 

The core spending power in 2024 for councils across the UK is now 18.1% lower in real terms than 2010 levels. In June 2023 a survey was published by SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities), representing 47 urban authorities, 36 of which are in the North and are amongst some of the most deprived communities in England. The survey revealed: “On average, each SIGOMA council will be forced to make £15m of savings this year, amounting to £700 million across the 47 councils.” Half the respondents to the survey feared that to stay within their annual budget there was a “risk to the future standards of service in Adults or Children’s Care as a result of the cuts.”

Since 2018, twelve councils have effectively declared bankruptcy, another fourteen are expected to declare bankruptcy within the next twelve months, their budgets hammered over the last 13 years. 

Levelling Up has been given the sobriquet “Hunger Games” by some media and cynical participants. Against this bleak backdrop, councils are pitted against each other, jostling for desperately needed funding. Nationally, local councils are estimated to have spent £23.4 million from their hard pressed budgets on expensive consultants to give them a competitive edge over councils in a similar position. However, as a surprise to no one, Levelling Up funding appears to be rigged, with millions funnelled into the constituencies of Tory MPs, Ministers and the City of London.

Eeny meeny miney mo

YorkshireLive reported their local authorities spent £3.1 million on Levelling Up bid consultants. West Yorkshire lost 17 out of 18 bids. Bradford lost all four regeneration schemes bids, costing them £610,000 in consultants fees. County Durham spent £1.2 million on their unsuccessful 2022 bids which included social housing, improving public transport and bringing Stanley town centre back to life. 

In 2021 out of 305 bids only 105 were successful. In 2023 out of 525 bids only 111 bids were successful. The “Hunger Games”, have reduced local authorities to gambling away tens of thousands of pounds they can’t afford to lose, in a process where the odds are stacked against them, in what appears to be a completely random selection process.

Hilary Clinton, once famously described millions of working class Americans, Trump supporters, as “a basket of deplorables”. This description seems apt when describing the Tory Party in their treatment of many of Britain’s vulnerable communities.

Failed mission

Areas earmarked for levelling up are catagorised in terms of ‘Priority Groups’ one to three. ‘Priority one’ have “the highest level of identified need” and so their funding bids are more likely to succeed. “Need” as well as income and health are identified as areas that are considered most deprived.

Levelling Up minister Michael Gove specified 12 national ‘missions’: eliminating illiteracy, reducing the gap in pay, employment and productivity, narrowing the gap in life expectancy, 40% increase in research and development investment, reduce serious crime rates, improvement in well-being, more first time buyers in every area, increased access to high speed 4G and 5G coverage across the country by 2030, devolution for every area in England that wants it and, improved local public transport connectivity across the country bringing standards closer to London.

According to the IPPR report the Tories have failed miserably on many of these missions in the North. There is a direct correlation between health and prosperity, with regional inequality having a direct impact on longevity. The best example of this being the playground of the rich, Monaco, which enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Currently life expectancy in UK is “amongst the worst of advanced economies…” This statistic is compounded for those living outside of the South East. On “current trend”, the regional life expectancy gap is not expected to close until 2080. Mortality rates in Blackpool, Manchester and Hull resemble “those in Turkey.” Those living in the “bottom quartile of local authorities can expect to live 10 fewer years in good health than those in the top quartile…” 

Far from reducing the pay gap by 2030, the report finds regional inequalities in wealth have almost doubled from £37,000 in 2010 to £71,000 in 2020. Even the wealthier are affected, with a current wealth gap of £195,400, reaching £228,800 per head by the end of the decade. 

The IPPR report is a little more optimistic showing employment faring a bit better, with an overall rise in regional employment rates. However well paid, secure work has not been “evenly regionally distributed or accessible,” with job creation concentrated in London and the South East. The gap is set to widen by the beginning of the next decade on present trends, with London’s employment rate at 66%, whilst the North East’s will barely reach 56%, symbolising an entrenched ‘opportunity gap’ between North and South.

Northern transport cheated

Transport is key when it comes to Levelling Up the North. Following the scrapping of HS2’s Northern leg from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, “Network North” was created. Injecting £36 billion from HS2 costs, it was described by the government as a “tidal wave of new investment” connecting parts of the North of England with road and rail schemes. In the first wave of Network North projects, it was announced £235 million was to be allocated to improve roads in London. Described as “good news” by Greg Hands Minister for London, it was described as #***%!!!! by others.

In a case of giving with one hand whilst taking away with the other, the IPPR report of 2021 revealed that, “Over the past decade, if regions of the North had received the same per person [as London] transport spend they would have received £86 billion more.”

Confused… you won’t be

The acceptance or rejection of bids, despite clear aims and criteria seem completely arbitrary. For instance, part of Labour controlled Blackpool council’s bid was a success, receiving £40 million for a new carbon-neutral university, but their bid to help with hotel and transport plans, with tourism contributing more than £1.7 billion to the local economy along with over 22,000 jobs, was rejected. Meanwhile North Tyneside Council’s bid in the North East, considered the most deprived region in the country, was rejected.

Levelling Up imbalance or bias

The Guardian reported in September 2022 that: “Projects in the South East benefited from £9.2m from the fund in the year to 31 March 2022. By comparison, the North East only received £4.9m, despite being the poorest region in Britain by disposable household income.”

Morecambe’s Eden Project and Cardiff’s new rail line are touted as examples of northern Levelling Up funding success stories. However again the Guardian, in their February 2022 analyses, revealed: “Some of the wealthiest parts of England, including areas represented by government ministers, have so far been allocated 10 times more money per capita than the poorest…” FT research found that: “11 areas in England represented solely by MPs from the Conservative party that are in the lower half of national deprivation rankings have been put in the fund’s highest category… while some of the most deprived places in the country have been classed as ‘priority two’”.

In plain sight 

There seems to be no limit in how low levelling up Tories will go. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s recent budget bung of £242 million from the Levelling Up fund to Canary Wharf and Barking Riverside was met by many with anger and incredulity. Amongst other things, the funds will go towards building 8,000 houses. 800 of these will be in Canary Wharf, where the cost of a new build 2 bed flat will set you back anywhere from the low end of the market at £600,000 to £5 million, a high price tag for Michael Gove’s first time buyers in a housing shortage crisis. It seems somewhat apt, that this hub for global finance and commerce is where the Tory Levelling Up mask finally slips. The criteria of “need, income and health”, rendered meaningless. 

Even winners are losers

The North East, a region that has seen children in care rise to 77% since 2009 in comparison to London which has experienced a reduction of 25% over the same period, was given £100 million in the same budget. Whilst grateful, Newcastle City Council pointed out the funding: “…still doesn’t come close to reversing the damage of nearly 15 years of austerity in terms of the public funding our region has seen stripped away, which stands at almost £370m in Newcastle alone.”

In the service of one’s self

Rishi Sunak, when addressing the good Tories of Tunbridge Wells in 2022 said: “We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.” He has been true to his word.

The unelected PM’s North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond has been allocated the highest Levelling Up ranking of ‘priority one’. Described in a tourist guide as “one of Britain’s most beautiful and vibrant market towns. With its iconic castle, fine historic buildings, sweeping cobbled market place and leafy riverside vistas…” However such was its “need”, one concerned resident, in response to their £19 million Levelling Up windfall was reported by iNews as saying, “…Richmond needs tidying up a bit…” She thought, along with some fellow residents, other parts of the country were more in need of the cash. 

Barrow-in-Furness also comes within the ‘priority one’ category. Falling within the 20% most deprived nationally in terms of income deprivation, Central Barrow is at 3%, with an average income £100 lower than the region’s average. According to the Office of National Statistics, Barrow also has the lowest life expectancy for girls across “the three nations“. Barrow received the lesser sum of £16 million, obviously not meeting the same criteria of “need” as the PM’s constituency.

All aboard the gravy train 

Other Tory MPs and Ministers were aboard the Levelling Up up gravy train. Sajid Javid’s constituency of Bromsgrove received £14.5 million when he was health secretary. Fellow traveller Mark Harper’s Forest of Dean and Sherwood constituency received £20 million. Central Bedfordshire, partly represented by Nadine Dories from 2005 – 2023 received a whopping £26.7 million when she was culture secretary. Sarah Dines Under-Secretary of State for Safeguarding October 2022 to November 2023 received £13.3 million.

Meanwhile Sunak announced at the Tory Party conference in October 2023 that £20 million in Levelling Up funds would be distributed to, as reported by The Evening Standard: “55 of the most “overlooked” towns across the UK in the next 10 years… Of these 55 selected towns, 34 are constituencies that are represented by the Conservatives, which equates to 62 per cent.”

Tinkering at the edges of inequality 

The IPPR report has identified an inequality in tax as one of the main drivers in the UK’s regional divide stating: “Our laws, regulations and tax system support the growth of wealth over income from work.” Capital Gains Tax, derived from assets such as stocks, bonds, property etc is subject to a substantially lower tax rate than ordinary income tax. IPPR revealed, “One neighbourhood of 6,400 people in Kensington had as much in the capital gains as Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle combined…” 

Working class people are not only disadvantaged by the disparity of tax that substantially favours the rich but also by the disadvantages this tax disparity brings to their regions and communities. Meanwhile Labour has no plans to increase capital gains tax (CGT) but rather tinkering at the edges by possibly looking to change CGT exemptions.

Northern industry saw George Stephenson’s first steam locomotive, the Rocket, revolutionise the British railway system and the way people travelled, ironically not a facility Northern train travellers enjoy today. The North was the home of heavy industries such as coal mining, steel and shipbuilding and a key driver in the nation’s wealth creation. Decimated in the 1980s and 1990s, it has now all but disappeared. 

The emergence of a post-industrial Britain saw the North with its face pressed up against the window for decades, looking in on the concentration of wealth in London and the South East. Fed up of being treated as if on the periphery of the second richest country in Europe, they helped land the Westminster Uniparty a bloody nose in the EU referendum. George Galloway’s by-election victory in Rochdale shows it can be done again at the next general election.

Let them eat Blackpool rock

Scott Benton former MP for Blackpool South, resigned following a Times newspaper sting. The Times was investigating allegations the gambling industry was securing support from MPs in return for financial reward in an effort to protect their profits from possible tougher government regulations. The Guardian reported the MP: “… reportedly offered to lobby ministers on behalf of the gambling industry and leak a confidential policy document for up to £4,000 a month.” The average full time wage in Blackpool is lower than the majority of towns and cities, and the average life expectancy is 10.3 years lower than the rest of England.

The Uniparty do not work in the best interests of the British people. A vote for Labour or Conservative in the next general election, is a guarantee of more austerity and a deepening regional divide. Depending on where you live, you will experience higher unemployment, lack of opportunity, lower quality of life and an earlier death.

Building a better Britain

The Workers Party of Britain see the engagement of the British people in the North and left-behind communities all over the country as integral to the solution of Britain’s regional disparity, participating in building a strong socialist economy that will see a “redistribution of wealth and power in favour of working people,” as laid out in our manifesto. This coming year is our opportunity to send a resounding message to the Uni party that we’ve had enough.

Vote smart, vote The Workers Party of Britain.

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