A Grin Up North

The report from Tory think tank Policy Exchange that northern cities are beyond regeneration, caused a bit of a stir in the Republic of Merseyside. The report - covered here in The Guardian - states,

"Coastal cities, whether large like Liverpool and Hull, or small like Scunthorpe and Blackpool, are most vulnerable ... They are almost always at the end of the line. They have lost their raison d'etre [as ports] and it is hard to imagine them prospering at their current sizes.

Understandably, the Conservative Party have been quick to distance themselves from this barmy report. I don't particularly want to dwell too much on this as these academics don't deserve the oxygen of publicity. (Some callers to our local radio station thought they should be deprived of oxygen itself, but I digress).

The report, Cities Unlimited, says: "Many of Britain's towns and cities have failed - and been failed by policy makers for too long. It is better to tell uncomfortable truths than to continue to claim that if we carry on as we are then things will turn out well. Just as we can't buck the market, so we can't buck economic geography either. Places that enjoyed the conditions for creating wealth in the coal-powered 19th century often do not do so today.

The fact is that Liverpool and the surrounding areas are beginning to prosper economically. There is development. Whilst we can argue about the immediate effect on poorer sections of the area., it is noticeable that investment is coming here.

Another bright idea is this so-called new notion: "Cities based on highly skilled workers are the most dynamic. Oxford and Cambridge are unambiguously Britain's leading research universities outside London." People in the north should be told bluntly that their best chance of an affluent future is to move south. "No one is suggesting that residents should be forced to move, but we do argue that they should be told the reality of the position."

Historically, this has happened for many years. As our industry has become increasingly Londoncentric, people have had to, as Norman Tebbit's dad did, 'get on their bikes' and re-located. The idea that Oxford (high murder rate since Morse died), Cambridge and London are crying out for an influx of northerners defies logic and I'm sure this nonsense will be very popular there. Of course, the reality is that there is an implication here that hi-fliers should move but sod the rest, thus creating ghettos which can be left to rot as they were under Thatcher. That is the nasty taste this report leaves; a dilemma for the nasty party seeking votes up north.

The idea that we should forget about regeneration is ludicrous; if anything those in the south should be worried - the future could be in the north. Given technological advances, why do we have to have everything concentrated in the south-east. Costs are lower, people are friendlier (no generalisation either) and other countries manage it.

The other flaw in their argument is that it is based on historical growth. One thing history shows is that successful investment does not necessarily have to be based on the past. Liverpool may not be dependent on its status as a port - though the docks are busier than ever and the river is busier than it's been for decades - but that port would not have been built in the first place without risk and investment.

I'm sure most of us here are having a smile today over this report and are enjoying the Tories squirm, but it does teach us a lesson - such think-tanks - be they left or right - are dangerous, disproportionally powerful bodies. They are often relied upon by papers for quotes when journalists cannot be bothered researching (Civitas, Migrationwatch e.g.) so hopefully their findings and views will not be accepted as tablets of stone in the future. Somehow I doubt it though.

Anyway, thanks Tim 'Nice but Dim' Leunig, for today's laugh.


In an article in the Liverpool Echo 'boffin' (compulsory to describe anyone with a Masters Degree as Einstein) Tim Leunig digs even deeper as he seeks to bury his credibility. I've copied it in full as Echo links tend to disappear after a few days.

  • THE author of a report branding Liverpool beyond help today said its regeneration cash would be better spent on plasma TVs.
    Tim Leunig dismissed the city’s £4bn revival saying the chances of it catching up with rich parts of the south east were "close to zero".
    Instead he said Liverpool residents should move south to London, claiming the decline of the docks had taken away the city’s reason to exist.
    Mr Leunig’s report, which he admitted some people would think was "barmy", was today dismissed as "tosh" and written by an "idiot".
    City leaders pointed to Liverpool’s Capital of Culture-inspired rebirth and hugely successful schemes like Liverpool One and the ECHO arena.
    But London- based Mr Leunig, who co-wrote his report for think- tank Policy Exchange with fellow academic James Swaffield, insisted city residents would be better off packing their bags and leaving.
    He said: "I am not saying Liverpool is such a bad place to live. But it is a bad place to earn money because it is on the edge of the country.
    "It is poorly connected to the road network, the rail network and air links.
    "And it is a long, long way away from markets in Europe.
    "People are doing their best without a doubt. But the city still suffers the problem of not being near London or Heathrow.
    "Some of the cost of regeneration – I wonder if it should have been used to buy plasma televisions. I am being flippant – but only a little."
    Mr Leunig admitted he did not visit Liverpool or speak to city leaders before writing his report. He added: "People in Liverpool are better off than ever before.
    "But they have only got better off at the same rate as the rest of the country, so Liverpool is not catching up with London or the south east.
    "It is not because people are lazy or feckless. It is because Liverpool is less well-placed to do business.
    "The chance of Liverpool catching up with the UK average in the foreseeable future is close to zero.
    "If Liverpool people want to be as rich as people elsewhere they have to move out of the city."
    * Dr Tim Leunig is a lecturer in economic history at the London School of Economics.
    He went to Oxford university, where he got a degree, masters and doctorate in economics.
    He admits to making only a brief "pilgrimage" to Liverpool when writing a report about Lancashire’s cotton towns.
    He can be emailed on

Almost as good as Patrick Minford of Liverpool University - in a lecture I attended - advising unemployed people to visit factories and offer to work for less than the present workforce. The frightening thing was that Minford was very influential to Thatcher; it is to be hoped that should Cameron become P.M. he'll not be returning calls from Plasma Man.