Regional inequality has been a feature of British political discourse for many years. In productivity, infrastructure, and connectivity, the UK is two nations. London and the South East soar ahead while the rest of the country lags behind. This was recently demonstrated further by the huge disparities between GCSE results in poorer regions of the country and more affluent areas. There is universal agreement that we need to ensure all regions of the UK level up; but how can this be achieved?
The Institute for Prosperity believes that the only way the UK can achieve higher growth rates and, consequently, have more funding for public services like education is through a revival of British manufacturing. If we want to pay for more one-to-one tuition, specialist provision, and more teachers, we need to raise funds. The British economy is stagnating and we are diminishing our share of world trade, and this is because we have allowed our manufacturing industry to decline.
To reverse this trend, we need radical reform. The country is amid an economic crisis and severe inflationary pressures. The only way out of our present difficulties is to go for growth. This means we need the next Prime Minister to prioritise manufacturing and British industry. We need tax incentives for investment in mechanisation, automation, and technology, as well as access to long-term, patient capital. We must reform planning rules to make way for modern green factories and plants to modernise British industry. Above all, we need a competitive exchange policy to make those types of investments profitable and so British exports can compete in the global market.
The levelling up agenda lacks definition, and yet it has been allocated billions of pounds. The government is providing funding to projects in constituencies up and down the country in an attempt to transform them into wealth-creating areas that can pay their way. Government support can help, but simply injecting cash into regions with low levels of productivity will not solve the problem. We need a policy change to create the conditions required for growth. People in deprived areas do not need extra spending; they need businesses that provide a good wage to improve the community's condition.
Manufacturing is essential as part of a broader industrial strategy if we are to truly level up. As part of that strategy, we need to ensure there is a real focus on increasing the number of GCSE pupils going on to study STEM subjects which means an increased emphasis on maths, IT, and technology in schools. Opportunities for apprenticeships and work shadowing should be restored, and this should include time in industry. Technology, automation, and mechanisation are exciting possibilities that should stimulate the minds of young people. If we create the conditions for growth, young people will be able to enter industry and work for their own prosperity and that of the nation.