Investment alone will not be enough to address regional disparity, concludes PwC report

People living in urban areas are 48% more likely to feel Britain treats them fairly than those in rural areas, according to new research released today. The findings in a new PwC report underline the need for businesses, local government, communities and central government to work together to address the ‘new geography of disparity’ across the UK and close the opportunity gap.

The survey of 4,000 citizens across the UK finds that:

● People living in urban areas are 37% more likely than those living in suburban areas to say Britain treats them fairly

● Where people live has a big impact on their view of fairness in UK society, transcending factors such as income, race and background

● Young people increasingly want to get involved in decisions about their local area with 66% of 16-24 years wishing to do so compared to 31% of those aged 65 and above and 48% overall

The report ‘Where we live’ finds regional disparities in people’s views of fairness: Londoners are twice as likely to say society is fair than citizens in the South West, North West or East of England. However, there are significant variations within regions too, in particular between major cities and peripheral towns and rural areas revealing ‘a new geography of disparity’. As the Government considers new funding formulas for rebalancing public spending, the research shows the importance of place-based policy which recognises these in-region differences with many streets, suburbs and satellite towns not enjoying the benefits of Britain’s urban renaissance.

The Government’s Budget on 11 March is expected to deliver investments for ‘levelling up’ regions that feel left out of UK growth, including for major infrastructure projects. But the research shows that interventions which make a tangible difference to the ‘liveability’ of a place can make a direct impact on people’s sense of fairness and is therefore a good focus of policy and investment.

People’s experience of where they live is as important to their perception of fairness as factors like employment, income and access to services. For example, responses to the survey underline the impact the visual appearance of an area has on how its residents feel – being in a run-down area can make people feel unsafe and depressed even if their basic human needs are being met.

The research, conducted before the General Election, also found that people’s sense of fairness is connected to now ‘listened to’ they feel and that there is an appetite to engage with issues affecting their daily lives. Almost half (48%) of the respondents want to get involved in decisions about their local place.

‘Where we live’ explores the role of business, community groups as well as local political leaders in closing the opportunity gap in their areas. This latest in a series of Future of Government reports recommends five fairness tests which could be used by government to design and test public policy to help build a fairer future for the UK:

● Provide for fundamental needs, prioritising the vulnerable and those in greatest need;

● Help people earn a decent living and prepare for the future world of work;

● Close the “fairness gap” between places and opportunities;

● Give individuals more control over the services they access; and

● Empower communities to shape the places they live.

Karen Finlayson, PwC partner and regional lead for government & healthcare industries, said:

“The widening gap between towns and cities is not unique to the UK; it is a challenge being played out in countries all over the world. To address this new geography policy-makers have to balance big policy ideas such as devolution and national infrastructure, with small, localised initiatives which will make a real difference to where people live.

“Businesses also need to take an active role in working with national and local governments to tackle the opportunity gap and create jobs by tapping into local talent. An approach which emphasises upskilling and technology could help generate more jobs in ‘left behind’ places. As the The UK navigates its course outside of the EU. The role of ‘place’ will become important to unleashing the UK’s potential.”

The report makes a number of recommendations on how to help close the UK’s opportunity gap, including:

– Redistributing spending on education, infrastructure and technology will be key to creating successful local economies and challenging this new geography of disparity. Regions that work out how to harness the power of place in all its forms will be able to shift the dial on productivity and wellbeing, achieve sustainable growth, attract high-value investment and genuinely compete on a global stage.

– For devolution to make a meaningful contribution to making the country fairer, consideration will need to be given to the offers which might be made to towns and rural areas as well as how a different model of devolution could better create a sense of local connection and ownership among citizens.

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