Live: Anna Round, Institute for Public Policy Research

There is a general feeling that the next decade is going to be a period of turbulence and change, and not just because of Brexit. In light of this, Richard Dawson meets Anna Round, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), to discuss some of the work they’ve been doing and its implications for the North East

The IPPR’s non-party-political Commission on Economic Justice recently put together a 250-page report examining the challenges the UK economy faces and making proposals for reform. So what is the report advocating for?

“The report is looking at how we reshape the economy so that businesses do well and generate GVA, employment and growth; whilst at the same time delivering economic justice to the people who work in the economy,” Anna explains.

“That linking of the two is really important,” she adds.

As for the timing of the report, Anna continues, “The next decade is going to be a period of change and turbulence whether we like it or not. So, standing still really isn’t an option as government, businesses or communities.”

Anna cites factors such as climate change, demographic ageing and a new phase of globalisation as challenges we must address.

“These aren’t policy changes, these are changes that policy needs to handle.”

The IPPR’s report sets out a ten-point plan to address these challenges and it is all-encompassing. Of particular interest to us here in the North East are the sections on rethinking industrial strategy, raising public investment and devolving economic power.

Industrial strategy is one of the IPPR’s key themes.

“For the North East it’s about saying right, what are we good at and what can we get good at.”

“If you look at really successful exporters, they have a hugely diverse manufacturing base and they keep diversifying it,” she continues. The key for us as a region is therefore to develop new forms of industrialisation that can diversify our exports.

The North East is already well known for its exports, having until recently been the only region in the UK to have a trade surplus.

“The other thing the North East is very good at is reinventing itself. It’s got a great history of innovation going back to [Stephenson’s] rocket.

“A new industrial strategy, which offers investment and opportunities to do that in the global economy would really play to the North East’s strengths.”

The report also highlights the need to increase public investment, particularly here in the North East, where Anna suggests investment in areas such transport has been ‘really pretty poor’.

“The North needs to be much better connected to have more regular and more reliable services. Transport infrastructure needs to be connecting things together. Connecting people to jobs, connecting towns to cities and connecting people to opportunities to learn.”

Another key factor is devolution; the extension of decision-making powers from central government to the regions.

“More economic power and more trust in the regions is what we need.”

“We also need a fair system of distribution of finance that reflects historical imbalances [between regions] and seeks to correct some of those,” she continues.

As much as anything else, devolution is about changing the way we think about challenges facing regions like the North East. Anna clarifies, “We need to look at the North as an area with massive economic potential instead of saying how do we solve the problems?”

“The North and the other regions are not the problem, they’re an opportunity.”

Anna continues: “The North East has already grasped opportunities to provide a great workforce for innovative industries like the car industry and the rail industry.”

“The idea that we have people who just want to go and work down a mine is utter nonsense perpetuated by people who have not visited the North East.”

For Anna and those in the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, the mission is not to fan the flames of age-old arguments but to look at the UK’s economy and ask, ‘what can we do better?’

To say nothing of Brexit, the global, environmental and technological changes that the UK will face in the next decade means that we must look at ways to make our economy more productive and resilient. For the IPPR, the key to this is contained in their prosperity and justice report.

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)