Regional disparities can be tackled by more devolution and local decision-making

Policy experts have joined University of Manchester (UoM) academics and guests at Manchester Art Gallery for the launch of a new publication crammed with evidence-based solutions to tackle regional inequalities and boost the levelling up agenda.

Power in Place – published by the University’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester – brings together research and recommendations across nine public policy areas including strengthening participation in devolved policymaking, closing the attainment gap in schools for children living in poverty and addressing health inequalities in so-called ‘left behind neighbourhoods.’

Speaking at a special panel discussion chaired by Tom Pope, Deputy Chief Economist at the Institute for Government, Professor Francesca Gains, Professor of Public Policy at UoM, said she believed that in the wake of austerity, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, major regional disparities had been revealed with significant consequences for economic growth.

She continued: “But most of all, inequalities severely constrain the life chances and outcomes for people. Underlying those regional geographic communities are inequalities that turbo-charge that uneven geography.”

Professor Gains, who co-authored an article in Power in Place on strengthening participation in devolved policymaking with her UoM colleague Professor Liz Richardson, said:

“The inequalities of outcomes that we face require radically better national policies, but regional devolution does offer a marvellous opportunity to support regional growth, innovation and joining up health and social care.”

She continued: “The realisation of real improvement to create sustainable and thriving communities will come through the levers of local place-based leaders working with their communities. The real key for the next government will be to join up national policy levers with these communities.”

Joining Professor Gains on the panel were Cllr Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority Lead for Equalities and Communities, Edna Robinson, Chair of the People’s Powerhouse, and Dr Luke Munford, Senior Lecturer in Health Economics at UoM.

Dr Munford, who contributed a piece to Power in Place on addressing health inequalities in left behind neighbourhoods, told the gathering there was ample evidence that investment in social infrastructure in deprived areas – including support for recreational activities such as dancing classes – can lead to community empowerment and improvements in people’s health.

He said: “But it needs to be funded in a long-term and systematic way. We need to think beyond the short-term two, three years. We need to think 10, 15, 20 years. Because if you in invest in social capital and social infrastructure today, you’re not going to change health tomorrow, you need to stick with this in the long-term. It needs to be community-led, a national one-size fits all policy doesn’t work.”

Dr Munford said UoM research showed that devolution in Greater Manchester, particularly in relation to health and social care, had enabled the region to “buck the trend in the stagnation of life expectancy compared to similar parts of the country that didn’t have devolution.” He added: “That localised strategy can work, but I think we need to go a bit further with devolution than we’ve gone in the past to get even bigger rewards.”

Dr Munford told the meeting that access to local funding should be “community-led and community-driven so people aren’t just left on their own to get pots of money from nowhere.”

He argued: “There needs to be some national coordination of the pot of money that is spread – but we need to target areas with high needs first.”

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Regional disparities can be tackled by more devolution and local decision-making

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