‘Levelling up’ and addressing the UK’s historic north-south divide really comes down to one indispensable resource: its people. And in the battle to attract the best and the brightest, London has been beating its rivals hands down for years observes Simon Jenkins in an opinion piece for The Guardian - 04.02.22.
“The great unmentioned truth in any debate on the north-south divide is not the deprivation of the north, serious though it may be. It is the magnetism of London. It is summed up in a meeting of Manchester businessmen I once attended. They never mentioned infrastructure. They cried with one voice, “Why does London steal our young people?
I likewise recall a northern woman telling me that all her children and grandchildren had gone south, and never would return. When I commiserated, she beamed and said, “Oh no. They’ve all done very well.”
Dispensing cash from Whitehall is no solution at all. it has been tried since the days of Clement Attlee and it has not worked, merely reinforcing dependency beneath a veneer of paternalistic benevolence. Local initiative is really what will make the difference:
“Gove did hint at this in his mission to improve something called “pride of place”. The dominance of London over all other English cities is unlike that of the capital of any other developed country. At its root is the steady disempowerment of these cities, stripped of their self-government until they are mere agencies of Whitehall.
“Every city and town should clearly have one mayor, executive and plenipotentiary. This is extremely common in Europe. The additional devolution of wider local control has had mixed results in Wales and Scotland, but it unquestionably boosts local pride and morale. Gove should give cities and counties tax-raising powers and far more fiscal discretion. With local taxes accounting for such a tiny percentage of public sector revenue, this is a recipe for Whitehall deciding everything.”
In addition, our towns and cities could take a leaf out of the Capital and draw on their own proud history and architecture as a magnet for inward investment as London has done:
“If Johnson is to deny the north large sums of public spending, he can at least demand that London offers instead some of its magnetism. For it is that magnetism that will help the north back to prosperity. England’s great cities should be liberated to recover the civic pride they once enjoyed. That is their one secure renaissance.”
The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it: