It is not right that in 2019 the lives of too many of our people are still subject to a postcode lottery. Whether it’s in health and education, or the quality of local infrastructure, there’s no doubt that a chasm exists between various parts of the UK.
Members of the Treasury Select Committee represent 11 different constituencies. Since I became chair of that group of MPs almost two years ago, the economic differences that exist between the areas we represent have become abundantly clear.
Divides between north and south, towns and cities, between urban and rural areas, cause people to experience a gulf in quality of life and future prospects. Office for National Statistics data indicates that from 2012 to 2014, life expectancy for newborn baby boys in Kensington and Chelsea was eight and a half years more than in Blackpool. For newborn baby girls, life expectancy in Chiltern was seven years more than in Middlesbrough.
In 2015, the average rate of cancer incidence across England and Wales was highest in the north of England and lowest in London.
A Social Market Foundation study in 2016 also showed how the area a child comes from proves a powerful predictive factor in their chances of gaining a good education. For children sitting exams at age 16, London persistently outperforms much of the north and the midlands. The correlation between place and attainment rapidly increased between 1970 and 2000.
Transport spending per head in 2016-17 was £944 in London and just £220 in the midlands. However, there are efforts to plug this gap: recent data from the ONS shows that in 2017 the northeast had the largest regional share of infrastructure in new construction work. According to a 2018 OECD survey on regions, Scotland scored highest in life satisfaction, with the northeast scoring the lowest.
So it’s very clear that disparities exist across the UK. But what is the government doing about it?
The Treasury has responsibility for increasing employment and productivity, ensuring strong growth and competitiveness across all regions of the UK. Yet Philip Hammond, the chancellor, told us recently that the Treasury does not have the data required to measure whether regional economies are growing or falling. It appears to define economic success in terms of the UK as one bloc, instead of examining its constituent parts.
This is not good enough. It could leave some regions of the UK lagging behind and potentially further divide a nation already riven by Brexit.
So the Treasury Committee has launched an inquiry into regional imbalances in the UK economy. There will be two strands to the inquiry. First, we’ll examine the nature of regional imbalances in the UK.
Second, we’ll look at what regional data is available in the UK and how it could be used more effectively to inform policy development.
Right now, it’s unclear to what extent the Treasury looks at regional impacts when it considers the overall health of the economy. The British people deserve more sophisticated economic information and analysis than that. This review will make sure that finally happens.
Nicky Morgan is Conservative MP for Loughborough and chair of the Treasury Select Committee