South East ‘bias’ could scupper UK industrial strategy, says Mersey Metro Mayor

Steve Rotheram urges UK universities to become ‘more connected, innovative and entrepreneurial’ but added Government’s bias towards the ‘Golden Triangle’ presents a huge risk to growth. Tony McDonough reports

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram

 

Britain’s new industrial strategy is doomed to failure unless the Government addresses its “hard-wired” bias towards the South East, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram says.

The Government launched its industrial strategy at the start of this week but the announcement was overshadowed by the news of Prince Harry’s engagements to Meghan Markle.

The White Paper’s strong emphasis on areas such as construction, life sciences, automotive, and artificial intelligence was broadly welcomed but, speaking at the annual conference of Universities UK, Mr Rotheram warned of the structural bias towards the so-called “golden triangle” around London.

He said: “Simply focusing on areas that are already overheating is one of the biggest obstacles to a National Industrial Strategy. The greatest potential to boost UK productivity lies in areas beyond the M25, but this will not happen without radical structural and cultural change.”

In his speech Mr Rotheram praised both the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University for their engagement with local businesses and he urged other UK universities to follow their lead with more of a focus on economic growth.

He said they needed to become “more connected, more innovative and more entrepreneurial”.

Automotive is one of the key sectors identified in the UK’s new industrial strategy

 

But he emphasised Government needed to focus much more of its efforts outside of the M25. He added: “We need a thorough and unequivocal commitment to greater devolution as the only way to overcome hard-wired bias and metro-centric default positions.

“Our universities have a massive role to play in creating alternative centres of innovation and growth and becoming active agents for a genuinely devolved and balanced UK economy.”

Mr Rotheram presented what he claims is clear evidence of the bias, including:

  • A growing establishment lobby  – supported by the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Lord Adonis – promoting the case for London’s Crossrail 2 ahead of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
  • An ongoing infrastructure investment imbalance that favours the South by a factor of 6 to 1.
  • A Treasury benefit/cost ratio evaluation model for major projects that discriminates in favour of areas with higher incomes, land values and tax receipts.
  • A massive imbalance in UK Research Council awards with nearly 50% of all money being granted to Universities within the Golden Triangle.

He stressed that the North’s case for a greater share of national investment was not a call for preferential treatment, but was based on hard economic sense and the urgent need for the country to realise the productive potential of all its assets and communities.

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