The new political economy of place

The growing risks and the rising political concerns for places and people ‘left behind’ are very evident in government policy, especially in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

The latest data and authoritative research identifies that:

  • Levels of productivity in some places across England are often relatively similar or worse than in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • This interregional problem is now the worst across the membership of the OECD. It is no longer a case of simple relative disparities in productivity. Senior economists speak of local economies across the North, Midlands, and the South West simply ‘decoupling, dislocating and disconnecting’ from those in London and the South East.
  • Current trends suggest overall levels of productivity in many of these places continues to worsen; and some are up to four times more dependent on EU markets than London / South East.
  • Anchor institutions, including universities, in some of these places are often not only the most significant economic actor but the only significant actor.
  • The immediate and long-term futures of these local places is increasingly dependent upon the continuing spend, activities and civic role of these anchor institutions.

As local places struggle economically, and the capacity of the local state continues to be challenged, the demands of local stakeholders for Government and its agencies to ‘do more’ for their local place can only continue to grow.   

What role for Government and its agencies?

A range of departments and agencies are now being tasked by Government with delivering a positive practical contribution to the Industrial Strategy.

For some, it will be a challenge to overcome. It will need a change of cultures, operating practises, new knowledges and new skills sets but doing nothing is increasingly not an option.

Central departments and agencies want or need a stronger understanding of:

  • Why and how wider economic markets are changing both at national and local levels as a result of globalisation, agglomeration and other drivers, and how these changes are impacting upon local markets generally and, specifically upon anchor institutions.
  • The underlying concepts of place and economic realities of local places, especially where particular cities and towns are heavily dependent upon the performance and activities of these anchors.
  • The extent to which spatially blind policies are having important negative (if unintended) direct and indirect effects on the performance on local places.
  • How policies within single departments to agencies can be better coordinated with other ‘place’ policies and programmes of other government departments and agencies, especially how the different scope, sources and types of investment finance provided by third parties impact upon the performance and activities of places and their anchors.
  • The dependency of local places on their local anchor institutions, and of the connections between them and their local stakeholders.
  • How existing and new regulatory frameworks need to take into account not just on individual institutions, but also upon local economies, especially where it is seeking to support an institution to right-size/adjust its offer in response, not just to competition, but to changes in the local economy. 

Local Growth Academy 

Want to build the capacity of your institution to understand in much more detail the complex issues outlined in the blog?

Over 160 anchor institutions have already signed up to the HEFCE-led Local Growth Academy and we are about to announce more modules to accommodate this growing demand.

Contact me for more information   


This blog acknowledges fully the work of Prof Phil McCann, University of Sheffield, Prof Ron Martin et al at Cambridge University, and Prof. John Goddard et al at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURDs) at Newcastle University. Full citations are available on request.