Regional inequalities will widen without action, ex-civil service chief warns

Lord Kerslake, former head of the Civil Service, who has warned that the gaps between the richest and poorest parts of the UK will widen without Government action.
Lord Kerslake, former head of the Civil Service, who has warned that the gaps between the richest and poorest parts of the UK will widen without Government action.

The gaps between the richest and poorest parts of the UK will widen without Government action, a former head of the Civil Service has warned.

Lord Kerslake, who led the Civil Service from 2012 to 2014, said despite efforts to tackle inequalities, the gap between London and the rest of the UK is widening.

The cross-bench peer added: "A child poor enough to qualify for free school meals in the London borough of Hackney is still three times more likely to go to university than a similarly disadvantaged child in Hartlepool in County Durham.

"These inequalities have built up over many decades and many different governments. Without a radically different approach and conscious effort to rebalance, the gap will continue to widen."

The UK2070 Commission, chaired by Lord Kerslake, has now published a preliminary report following its inquiry into regional inequalities.

The report suggests that without intervention London will continue to steam ahead to the extent that "its growth ceases to benefit the rest of the country".

However, if changes enable higher growth in less affluent regions - with an additional four million jobs outside London and the South East - the rise in long-distance commuting would slow, housing would become more affordable and pressures on environmental resources would be reduced, it says.

It recommends a greater devolution of powers and funding, including the creation of four new "super regional" economic development agencies.

The commission also calls for long-term investment through a new "National Renewal Fund" with the aim of rebalancing the economy over a 25-year period.

Lord Kerslake said: "There is no logical reason why people and places in one part of the UK are bound to perform more poorly than others.

"There is tremendous untapped potential in the regions in particular and we need to put the structures and resources in the right places to release it.

"Whilst solutions will take time to have an impact, now is unquestionably the right time to be having this debate because government is clearly not immune from the impact of disruptive events."

He added: "Whilst the scale of these challenges dictates substantial investment over a long-term horizon, the immediate pressures the UK is under demand that we develop a new national narrative and accompany that with some clear signs of intent.

"If we are going to start shifting the dial then we need to increase local capacity to take on these tasks, be bold enough to set national standards for living conditions and access to services, and put place at the heart of policies, programmes and spending.

"There is too much distance and inertia in our government system. We need to bring it closer to people and places to make it more relevant and responsive."