Levelling up productiveness gaps within the UK


The UK has skilled unusually sluggish development charges in productiveness since 2010, resulting in what has been termed the UK’s productiveness puzzle (Ilzetzki 2020; see additionally Ilzetzki and Smith 2022, Crumpton and Ilzetzki 2021, and the CfM survey right here) This sluggish productiveness development on the nationwide degree masks important regional disparities in productiveness ranges,1 with persistent geographical clusters of high- and low-productivity subregions. Fifteen of the very best productiveness subregions are situated both in London or the Southeast; there are extra high-productivity pockets in different areas, primarily city areas. A lot of the low-productivity subregions are concentrated in rural areas,2 together with the Yorkshire and the Humber area and different rural areas within the Midlands and Wales.

Analysis has cited a number of potential causes for these regional variations (e.g. Hoole 2020). A assessment by the Industrial Strategic Council (Zymek and Jones 2020) discovered three primary explanations for the inequalities. First, there could also be basic variations throughout areas. These embody geography, native governance, academic high quality, infrastructure, and historic patterns of financial specialisation. 

Second, a big physique of educational analysis has proven proof of agglomeration results, with staff’ productiveness enhanced by being in proximity to different productive staff. This, in flip, results in a focus of funding and clusters of companies in high-productivity industries, in a small variety of areas. Marshall (1890: 225) first emphasised that “a localized trade positive factors an important benefit from the truth that it provides a relentless marketplace for ability”. Krugman (1991) additional formalised this notion by mathematically demonstrating why companies select to function in shut proximity to different companies and never ‘defect’ to alternate areas.

Third, there could also be sorting results, whereby high-skilled staff transfer to giant cities to learn from their facilities. This drives up the price of residing in these areas, inducing low-skilled staff to maneuver out of city areas. This results in a bifurcation in productiveness between cities and rural areas. Kerr et al. (2017) substantiated this principle by analysing emigration patterns of high-skilled staff to OECD international locations, attributing these actions to constructive agglomeration externalities.

Lastly, native transportation and digital infrastructure might play an necessary function (KPMG 2017). Metropolitan areas, notably London, which have higher transportation hyperlinks with peripheral areas can profit extra from agglomeration results. Public transport and highway and rail hyperlinks might enhance productiveness in lagging components of the nation by integrating them with productive metropolitan areas, so-called ‘borrowed’ agglomeration economies (OECD 2020). Combes et al. (2008) discovered that low transport prices and proximity to markets have a serious affect on companies’ productiveness and profitability, much more so than excessive employment density. Good digital infrastructure, in flip, permits distant areas to be built-in with extra productive areas (Gal and Egeland 2018).

The UK authorities has dedicated to lowering these regional disparities and boosting productiveness underneath its Levelling Up scheme. Below the broad umbrella of lowering geographic, socioeconomic and well being inequalities, the federal government has outlined 12 missions to realize by 2030,3 together with rising infrastructure and R&D funding in low-productivity areas, bettering housing, schooling and healthcare in lagging areas, and empowering native leaders and communities by devolving energy.

The UK authorities has allotted £4.8 billion up to now to the Levelling Up Fund4 to enhance infrastructure in disadvantaged cities and different lagging areas, with a complete of slightly below £1.7 billion having already been shared between 105 cities, cities, and areas. The federal government has dedicated £2.6 billion to empower localities to assist native companies, deal with constructing ‘pleasure in place’ by rising social and bodily capital, and improve life probabilities for communities, by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.5 The Group Renewal Fund and the Group Possession Funds  goal at growing native expertise and infrastructure on the group degree.

There’s nonetheless widespread debate amongst lecturers relating to the effectiveness of place-based insurance policies to scale back regional disparities. Gaubert (2018) analysed how place-based insurance policies to incentivise agency relocation don’t essentially result in extra regional equality, and as a substitute might even result in extra spatial inequalities as small and enormous cities broaden on the expense of mid-sized cities. Nonetheless, Garcilazo et al. (2010) argued that after a sure stage in a rustic’s improvement course of, the affect of the nation’s ‘development poles’ on combination development will lower resulting from agglomeration diseconomies. Consequently, combination development will more and more rely upon lagging areas, and therefore, place-based insurance policies shall be crucial to make sure excessive combination development and productiveness in main developed international locations.

Moreover, funding in ability improvement and insurance policies devoted to rising labour pressure participation might have a constructive affect on regional productiveness efficiency (Teow and Reilly 2019).

When it comes to centralisation of energy, the UK is beneath the OECD common in all dimensions (Gal and Egeland 2018), and monetary and administrative devolution might incentivise native governments to take cost of native improvement and enhance regional productiveness.

Lastly, Gai et al. (2021) construct a regional mannequin of the UK and present that tax coverage and labour market reforms would have a bigger impact on lagging areas and are subsequently efficient insurance policies to ‘degree up’. 

This month’s survey asks the CfM panel of consultants on the UK economic system to guage the principle elements driving regional productiveness disparities within the UK and which insurance policies might finest assist cut back regional productiveness disparities.

Query 1: What’s the main issue driving regional productiveness disparities within the UK?


Twenty-three members of the panel answered this query. Forty-four p.c of the panel attribute productiveness variations to agglomeration results, with a further 9% viewing sorting of expert staff into excessive productiveness areas. Mixed, because of this a majority of the panel consider that productiveness gaps consequence from self-reinforcing phenomena. Twenty-two p.c of the panel assume that productiveness gaps are resulting from place fundamentals and a further 9% opine that they’re resulting from poor transportation and connectivity of some UK areas. 

The most typical view is that agglomeration results are the principle reason for productiveness variations throughout the UK. This view is summarised by James Smith (Decision Basis): “Providers-dominated economies, just like the UK, profit from agglomeration results – that means that some excessive value-added industries focus in giant cities (i.e. London).” Roger Farmer (College of Warwick) supported this opinion, claiming that there’s “overwhelming” proof on the significance of accelerating returns-to-scale (caused by agglomeration results) in guaranteeing excessive productiveness, and excessive productiveness development. 

Nonetheless, most panellists state that a number of elements are in play. Morten Ravn (College Faculty London) describes how agglomeration results might reinforce place-based fundamentals: “Schooling and infrastructure variations are necessary parts, and these work together with agglomeration results (sorting). It takes a well-educated workforce for firms to put money into excessive productiveness actions, a well-educated workforce is the result of schooling, employment alternatives, and agglomeration, and with out the suitable infrastructure, the returns on such investments might not be excessive.” Jagjit Chadha (Nationwide Institute of Financial and Social Analysis) describes a number of causes behind this subject, inserting “a scientific failure to handle shortages in capital (human, bodily and monetary) throughout the nation” on the forefront. He factors out that this subject was expounded upon within the first report of the UK Productiveness Fee (2022).

A number of panellists additionally outlined the function of poor transport infrastructure and connectivity points as main elements behind regional productiveness variations. Michael Wickens (Cardiff Enterprise College and College of York) described the subpar transportation community within the North: “In York, the place I stay, as in the remainder of Yorkshire and Humber, poor transportation and roads are a significant factor. There’s nonetheless no twin carriageway to Scotland from Newcastle. The identical is true of roads connecting Sheffield to Manchester. And rail is even worse throughout the north.” Simon Wren-Lewis (College of Oxford) additional highlighted the affect of connectivity variations on regional productivities utilizing the bus community for instance, discussing the way it “works properly in London however is failing elsewhere.”

Query 2: Which insurance policies might finest assist cut back regional productiveness disparities?

Twenty-four panel members responded to this query. Thirty-eight p.c of the panel assume that public or (subsidised) non-public funding could be the simplest coverage. Respondents on this class had been additionally essentially the most assured of their responses. Twenty-one p.c consider that investments in expertise and schooling would finest assist cut back productiveness variations. Tax coverage and devolution of fiscal powers every acquired 13% of the responses and a single panel member advised publicly funded R&D as the simplest coverage.

Nearly all of the panel consider that public or subsidised funding in lagging communities is required to scale back regional productiveness disparities. This view is espoused by James Smith: “Extra funding in transport and communications infrastructure would cut back incentives for industries to cluster.” John Van Reenen (London College of Economics and Political Science) additional substantiated this viewpoint, citing Criscuolo et al. (2019) as proof of the efficacy of UK place-based funding subsidies. Roger Farmer emphasises the crucial function that the federal government should undertake to make sure higher regional equality: “Excessive-productivity areas don’t develop with out infrastructure. Authorities has a task by the availability of highway and rail networks and by investing in analysis universities.”

Nonetheless, Simon Wren-Lewis argues that public funding will solely work along with the devolution of fiscal powers. He states that “a serious impediment to bettering productiveness and prosperity outdoors London is H.M. Treasury, which has been very reluctant to fund main infrastructure initiatives outdoors the capital, and much more reluctant to permit any devolution of fiscal powers. Whereas that continues, not a lot will change.” Additional, Roger Farmer warns that public funding will solely be efficient whether it is concentrated and focused, arguing that “the UK has room for not more than two or three extra development centres: one within the north of England, one in Scotland and one in Northern Eire.”

Coverage certainty is of crucial significance if any place-based insurance policies are to work. Jagjit Chadha stresses the necessity to have a “dedication to the supply of those goals over the long term in order that companies and households consider {that a} important shift [in] productiveness prospects will happen after which act accordingly.” This is able to imply a shift in policymaking focus in the direction of creating “a focus round a markedly completely different equilibrium.”

Creator’s be aware: I thank Suryaansh Jain for his excellent analysis and editorial help.


Combes, P-P, M Lafourcade, J-F Thisse, and J-C Toutain (2008), “Lengthy-run spatial inequality in France: Evolution and determinants”, VoxEU.org, 5 December.

Criscuolo, C, R Martin, H G Overman, and J Van Reenen (2019), “Some Causal Results of an Industrial Coverage”, American Financial Assessment 109(1): 48-85.

Crumpton, L and E Ilzetzki (2021), “In direction of a high-wage, high-productivity economic system”, VoxEU.org, 9 December.

Gai, Y, D Meenagh and A P Minford (2021), “North and South: A Regional Mannequin of the UK,” CEPR Dialogue Paper No. 15635.

Gal, P and J Egeland (2018), “Decreasing regional disparities in productiveness in the UK“, OECD Economics Division Working Papers No. 1456.

Garcilazo, J E, J Oliveira Martins, and W Tompson (2010), “Why insurance policies might have to be place-based with a view to be people-centred”, VoxEU.org, 20 November.

Gardiner, B, B Fingleton, and R Martin (2020), “Regional Disparities I nLabour Productiveness and the function of capital inventory,” Nationwide Institute Financial Assessment 253: R29–R43. doi:10.1017/nie.2020.28.

Gaubert, C (2018), “Agency sorting and agglomeration”, VoxEU.org, 14 November.

Hoole, C (2020), “UK Regional Productiveness Variations and What Could be Driving These”, Metropolis REDI weblog, College of Birmingham, 17 March.

Ilzetzki, E (2020), “Explaining the UK’s productiveness slowdown: Views of main economists”, VoxEU.org, 11 March.

Ilzetzki, E and J Smith (2022), “Prospects for UK financial development”, VoxEU.org, 8 June.

Kerr S P, W Kerr, C Özden and C Parsons (2017), “International expertise mobility and human capital agglomeration”, VoxEU.org, 31 January.

KPMG (2017), Enhancing UK regional productiveness efficiency.

Krugman, P (1991), “Rising Returns and Financial Geography”, Journal of Political Economic system 99(3): 483-99.

Martin R, D Bailey, E Evenhuis et al. (2019), The Financial Efficiency of Britain’s Cities: Patterns, Processes and Coverage Implications, Structural Transformation, Adaptability and Metropolis Financial Evolution undertaking. 

Marshall, A (2013), Rules of Economics, Palgrave Macmillan.

OECD (2020), Enhancing Productiveness in UK Core Cities: Connecting Native and Regional Progress, OECD Publishing.

Teow, J and N Reilly (2019), “What drives regional productiveness gaps throughout the UK and the way can these be closed?”, Chapter 4 in UK Financial Outlook: November 2019, PwC.

UK Productiveness Fee (2022), Productiveness within the UK: Proof Assessment.

Zymek, R and B Jones (2020), UK Regional Productiveness Variations: An Proof Assessment, Industrial Technique Council. 





4 www.bbc.co.uk/information/56238260

5 www.gov.uk/authorities/publications/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus

6 www.gov.uk/authorities/collections/new-levelling-up-and-community-investments



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