If you’ve been to France you may have noticed the Mairie, as it’s called. There’s an office and staff serving every village and town.
For a village the size of ours, about 600 people, that means an office with someone on hand most working days. But our parish clerks only do a few hours a week, work from home, often live somewhere else. The budget of a village like ours is less than the price of a teenager’s first car!
The government of the UK is uniquely centralised. London is the super-power. That has consequences.
The regional towns and cities of other European countries feel more dynamic, more prosperous, more vital than ours. In France, Bordeaux or Toulouse, along with many others, are as rich as Paris, as is London.
These hubs energise surrounding towns and villages. But in England Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol can’t touch London. Average incomes, measured by GDP per person, in our richest regional cities are way lower than London and much lower than continental equivalents.
Power travels with money. Village money and support comes from the local and regional administrations.
But the regions of England raise far less of their own revenues than in other comparable countries. Only 6% of tax revenue is collected by local government in UK. The equivalent in France is 14%, Germany 32%, America 36%.
Our cities and regions simply do not have the scope or scale to power their own territories, adapt policies that meet their local needs and strengths.
Is this being addressed?
The Levelling Up Bill is working its way into legislation at the moment. At first look it may shift some investment away from London, but it seems to be in the form of pots of money to be allocated by Whitehall. Whitehall decides what the regions and cities need and allocates it. The regions are bidders. It’s the cap-in-hand approach.
A phrase sticks in my mind. Don’t know who said it. “A poor rich country with an alpha city”. Yes, our capital city is amazing. But if we are committed to levelling up, we will have to think more deeply about our regions, cities, towns and villages, their powers and their revenues.
That’s a big deal. It would mean a surrender of money and power by London. Major reforms like that are painful and difficult. I am not optimistic. But we need something to happen.
Enjoy the holiday.
Data mainly from the Economist: Free The North.
How to fire up Britain's economy. Dec 10, 2022.
Images: Map: Google Earth. UK outline (GLopezR) and City Skyline (Waid1995) from Pixabay.
©David Graham. 21.12.22