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UK’s political-economic system has ‘failed a generation’, report says

Rhyl’s rundown Abbey Street area in 2010

The UK’s current political-economic system has ‘failed a generation’ according to a new study, which calls for the creation of a national spatial strategy if the UK is to resolve social and regional inequalities.

The report – published by the University of Liverpool’s Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place – examined national spatial strategies in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France, stating that no such strategy exists for England.

The authors identified three key developments which are causing people to question the UK’s current path of development: austerity and ‘neoliberalim redux’ following the 2008 financial crash, Brexit, and the growing influence of artificial intelligence and big data.

Professor Mark Doyle, director of the Heseltine Institute and co-author of the report, titled National Spatial Strategies in an Age of Inequality, said that neoliberalism has brought ‘unprecedented pain on people’, causing political populism to soar in ‘left-behind’ communities.

Prof. Boyle said: ‘Inequalities not only exist and persist but over time it seems they have widened and become more impactful.

‘Exacerbating already existing structures and geographies of inequality, supply-side economics, deregulation, marketization, city-regional entrepreneurialism and trickle-down economics have in the end failed a generation.

‘Perhaps, not surprisingly then, there has arisen a new politics of inequality signalled by claims of a growing dislocation between representative democracy and popular sovereignty.’

The report argues that Brexit is likely to ‘remove or reduce’ EU investment in UK regions while the country becomes more dependent on AI and big data, potentially worsening existing inequalities.

It also criticises England’s lack of a national spatial strategy, saying that an approach to the UK’s largest country has been ‘ostentatious by its absence’.

While the authors of the report accept that neoliberalism is unlikely to be replaced, they have called for ‘balanced regional growth’, suggesting 15 changes to inform national and regional spatial and planning policy.

Among the recommendations made by the report is the need to support large and medium cities as part of a national approach, separate from the ‘short-termism’ of political cycles.

According to the report, plans should be ‘authentically co-authored’ by communities, particularly those ‘left-behind’, and supported by a dedicated capital investment fund. They should also be informed by practice overseas and subject to constant review as well as, crucially, being delivered.

Lord Kerslake, chair of the government’s UK2070 Commission, welcomed the report, describing it as ‘very timely’.

Lord Kerslake said: ‘Inequalities across the UK need to be challenged. This need is heightened by the political uncertainties brought about by Brexit and the global challenges of technological and climate change.

‘This report is therefore very timely. It will inform the considerations of the UK2070 Commission and of all those seeking more effective planning of development across the UK.’

The UK2070 Commission was launched in October 2018 as an independent enquiry into city and regional inequalities in the UK. It is set to report its findings in November this year.

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