Published: March 11, 2014

Viewpoint: Evan Davis’ Mind the Gap

UKmap-1wProfessor Alan Harding is Director of the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice

“I watched the second part of Evan Davis’ ‘Mind the Gap’ series last night after travelling back to Liverpool from a day in London. The BBC economist is in awe of our national capital. He spent much of his first programme last week marvelling at its magic, none of which was ever planned, he told us.

“The glory that is London is simply the natural result of smart, creative people flocking to a place that is overflowing with opportunity, sparking off one another in radically unpredictable ways and producing a modern, high productivity form of alchemy.

”The glory that is London is simply the natural result of smart, creative people flocking to a place that is overflowing with opportunity, Evan Davis told us”
I thought about that as I stood back and watched five successive Victoria line trains, one per minute, pass through Green Park tube station, packed so solid with uncomplaining commuters that barely a handful of my fellow would-be travellers could squeeze themselves on board.

“It is not much of a consolation to any of them that Crossrail, the rail tunnel under the capital for which the taxpayer is stumping up £5b, will come on stream in three years’ time in an attempt to lower the daily price for the city’s success, because by that time the megaprojects that are emerging in Kings Cross, Old Street, the Elephant and Castle, Stratford and a variety of other capital places will have swelled their numbers by tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.

Non-London England

“Davis’ second programme was nominally about ‘the rest’ of non-London England.

“It told us what we already know: that, to the extent that there is any prospect of a serious counterweight to London, it is to be found in the area of northern England that starts where we spend our working days and continues, through northern Cheshire and Greater Manchester, over to Leeds and Sheffield.

”What Davis did not point out is that we have slowly redesigned our institutions of government and our major policy frameworks so that they respond to the pressures of growth in southern England and rarely see what happens beyond”
This is the area of provincial England that prospered most during the boom years either side of the millennium and has weathered the storms produced by the global financial crisis and the subsequent years of austerity reasonably well.

“The challenge, of course, is to harness the potential of this diffuse northern metropolis in an era in which the clamour to feed the London beast seemingly leaves little time or resources for any other national priorities.

“What Davis did not point out is that we have slowly redesigned our institutions of government and our major policy frameworks so that they respond to the pressures of growth in southern England and rarely see what happens beyond. We have a national policy regime that not only does not mind the gap, it extends it. At a time when London is groaning under the weight of its own success and parts of its vast commuter hinterland is in danger of returning to the sea, the long-term sustainability of a strategy built on the idea that the London effect will eventually refresh all the parts of England it has not yet reached is questioned by everyone other than Boris Johnson.

“The challenge for those of us who care about the North is to give the alternative narrative that Evan Davis struggled to articulate some real substance and to help make that potential counterweight real.”

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One thought on “Viewpoint: Evan Davis’ Mind the Gap

  1. Chris Raddats

    Alan, thank you for starting what will be a very interesting debate. Evan Davis stated what has been known for a long time that clusters can attract many similar types of business to share knowledge, staff, suppliers etc. He mentioned Media City in Salford as an example. What he didn’t mention was the ‘leap of faith’ that the BBC took to relocate such a large part of their organsiation. The only way I see the North developing similar clusters is for the Government to relocate significant parts of its infrastructure, including thousands of jobs. This was planned under Labour to some extent but now seems to have stopped under the Coalition. Finally, perhaps Northern cities should also be campaigning for HS2 (or HS3) to link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull to truly created a joined up metropolis. Chris Raddats, ULMS

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