Tim Leunig: “unworkable, unreasonable and perhaps plain barmy”? (UPDATE)

The Guardian is getting itself into a lather attacking the “Tories’ favourite thinktank” for suggesting that Northern towns are failures. What they don’t report is that the pamphlet in question is co-written by the Lib Dems’ own Tim Leunig.

The summary of the pamphlet does indeed sound quite provocative. The idea that people should simply follow the money and that national governments shouldn’t examine why northern towns have failed to get themselves out of a decades-long economic slump and should instead encourage people to follow the money down south seems entirely unworkable. Where are all these northern incomers to London, Cambridge and Oxford supposed to live for one thing? Isn’t the south under enough pressure as it is at the moment? And somehow I suspect that paying people from the north to move south while southerners themselves are priced out of their neighbourhoods is likely to go down like a bucket of cold sick. But I will suspend my judgement until I read what they are actually proposing rather than the Guardian spin.

UPDATE: I’ve just read the exec summary of this report and the Guardian spin is balls. I’m not necessarily saying I agree with all of it, but much of it is very welcome. Will blog more later.


  1. It’s a difficult one. I disagree with this:

    The idea that people should simply follow the money and that national governments shouldn’t examine why northern towns have failed to get themselves out of a decades-long economic slump and should instead encourage people to follow the money down south seems entirely unworkable.

    That’s just basic free movement of people, isn’t it? I can’t imagine wanting to move to London personally, but there are certainly plenty more decent opportunities to do interesting and well-paid work in the South than in the North. I’ve only read the Guardian piece and not the full report, but I think a good point is also made on ‘regeneration’ budgets. These do almost nothing for organic industry and commerce and we would probably all be better off scrapping the regional development agencies and giving everyone a tax cut. One of my first ever blog posts (back in September 2005, on a blog that no longer exists) was about how regional development funding in Liverpool was being given to established companies but denied to startups, forcing small companies in my industry (web development) to operate at a significant handicap. The regional development system is a complete mess, propped up by a sense that ‘something must be done’ about the problems of Northern cities, rather than letting people figure out the answers that work best for them. And in some cases, that might mean leaving.

    The idea of paying people to move South is utterly absurd though.

  2. From an economic point of view, it may well be that Oxford and Cambridge are important centres that need to attract more skills, but I hardly think it’s appropriate to ‘give up’ on northern cities given the fantastic regeneration seen in cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham over the past 10-15 years.

  3. Rob, I wasn’t attacking the idea of people moving south any more than I would attack immigrants seeking a better life by coming to the UK. My beef is the idea of it being a matter of government policy and spending – my erudition became a victim of the hazards of 2am blogging I’m afraid.

    I entirely agree with you about regeneration budgets. NEF have done a lot of good work on this with their LM3 work, not that anyone seems to be listening. Regeneration only works when the wealth it creates is recycled into the local economy, another reason why I support LVT/SVR. Otherwise it just makes the rich even richer. But it is a bit of a leap to go from that to saying that we should leave the north to rot, and Leunig’s plan sounds a council of despair. But like I say, I will suspend judgement until I’ve read the pamphlet itself.

  4. Like James and Rob I’ve not read the pamphlet either, which qualifes me to talk about it too :oD

    I’d be very surprised if Tim Leunig did advocate what The Guardian suggests. We spoke once at an ALTER fringe about planning and he was horrified at the thought of a planning free-for-all (let landowners do with their land what they will) because, according to him, some land in the north was now of so little value that it would be in the economic interests of the owners to just abandon their houses and move south. This prospect filled him with deep concern.

    OTOH, Rob is right that people are and must be free to move to wherever they want to live and work. Regeneration budges are not just “do almost nothing” but actually undermine native regeneration. In places such as the North East over 70% of work is in the public sector: many intelligent, hard-working people are sucked into jobs at GONE (an acronym too funny for words!) and other useless bureaucracies when otherwise they would be working in the private sector generating wealth. What is more, the public sector wages push up the cost of living and prevent other companies from taking advantage of the pool of labour, thus creating jobs.

    Paying people to move South is utterly absurd, as Rob says, but so is paying them to stay North. We should scrap regeneration budgets, use the money to cut corporation tax and let (human) nature take its course.

  5. I can’t believe the Grauniad spin on this. The thrust of the PE report seems to be devolution and localism.

    I’ve blogged on it sympathetically and I would currently position myself as Green left!

  6. Re- Tom Papworth

    …”let (human) nature take its course.”? Can’t wait for your cancer to kick off! Arsewipe!

  7. I worry about anybody who can actually bring themselves to write “Can’t wait for your cancer to kick off”. You are clearly a deeply troubled soul. Have you considered anger management therepy?

    Anyway, what has my cancer got to do with regeneration budgets?

  8. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I can’t find any mention of the enormous investment in infrastructure that would be needed to house that many people in the SE – thinking particularly about water and the constant shortages you get over on that side, but also transport would be on my list of top problems. Is it really cheaper to set up new transport networks round London than to improve the ones surrounding Manchester?

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