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To rebalance the UK economy, we need great jobs in great places

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Image: sturti/Getty Images

Read blogs from Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, and Norfolk and Suffolk

Related report Great Jobs in Great Places: New approaches to regional industrial strategy

No matter where we’re from, or where we work, we all deserve the chance to get a great job.

But after decades of deindustrialisation, too many communities in the UK have been left without good, unionised jobs that people can build a life on.

This has given way to stark regional inequalities, especially (though not always) between the North and South of England.

Children in the North East are twice as likely to live in a workless household than those in the South East. And since 2011, almost half of jobs created in the North West, and two-thirds of the jobs created in the North East are insecure (e.g. agency, temporary, or zero hours).

But it’s not all roses in the South: outside of inner London, growth in places like Norfolk and Suffolk has fallen or remained static, while some parts of the capital have steamed ahead.

Rebalancing our economy through an ambitious industrial strategy is one of the most pressing issues of our time. And it comes amid three wider contextual factors:

  1. Devolution: Around half of all union members and a third of the workforce in England now live and areas covered by city region devolution deals. Combined Authorities and mayors have a new and increasing set of powers relating to economic growth, transport, skills policy, and more.
  2. Brexit: Leaving the EU brings different threats and opportunities to different parts of the country. Industrial strategy that is sensitive to places is critical to the task of ensuring that the economy provides people with the jobs, rights and living standards they deserve as we leave.
  3. Decarbonisation: To meet our international commitments to reduce emissions and fight climate change, national and regional industrial strategies must consider how heavy industry and the jobs that depend on them can transition in a fair way.

Against this backdrop, the government’s forthcoming White Paper on Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way the economy works so that no community is left behind.

But it won’t be enough to devolve power away from Whitehall to regional mayors or local authorities. A social economy must be delivered:  power must reach into workplaces and communities, so that working people have a real say in the decisions affecting their daily lives.

The TUC has commissioned three pieces of research on what regional industrial strategies should look like.

We assessed the  situations in Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, and Norfolk and Suffolk – three diverse regions that, like most of the UK, are suffering from a rise in insecure work, exceptionally weak pay growth and a lack of government and private sector investment.

But they also suffer place-specific challenges, and have their own distinct opportunities for growth.

The research involved extensive interviews with political leaders, public bodies, unions, employers, and working people. Through this, we’ve assessed what regions need to do to help rebalance their economies, looking at social partnership, employment charters, sectoral approaches, skills, adult education, and infrastructure.

We’ve also considered what central government should do to eradicate regional inequalities and create great jobs, looking at issues including the role of regional development banks, infrastructure investment, adult re-training, apprenticeships, and replacing EU funds.

For too long, working people have been footing the bill for the 2008 financial crisis. It’s time for that to change, by shifting power away from Westminster and towards people in their workplaces and communities.

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