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New Index reveals prosperity of every region and local authority in the UK

Institute calls for levelling-up agenda to include societal aspects of prosperity

The Legatum Institute has published a brand-new UK Prosperity Index report. Using 256 indicators based on the latest available data (predominantly from before Covid-19 struck) to provide a comprehensive assessment of institutional, economic, and social wellbeing across the country’s 379 local authorities, the Index will be used to track the Government’s ‘levelling-up agenda’ and can help leaders identify what is going well and what is going wrong in every area of the UK.

The Index highlights the considerable variation in prosperity between and within regions:

  • The most prosperous regions of the UK are the South East, South West, and East of England.
  • The most prosperous local authorities are concentrated in the South East: Wokingham, Waverley, Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, and Woking.
  • The least prosperous regions are Greater Manchester, West Midlands (Metropolitan), and Yorkshire and The Humber.
  • The least prosperous local authorities are distributed across the north of England (Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Oldham) and Scotland (Glasgow City and West Dunbartonshire).

The report also identifies 17 distinctive archetypes of areas that each have their own challenges, opportunities, and examples of best practice. Of these, the Commuter Belt around London, Rural England, Outer London, and Mid-Sized Urban Hubs are the most prosperous, while Post-Industrial Urban areas, the Welsh Valleys, Scotland’s Central-Belt, and the Industrial Heartlands are the least prosperous. To be most effective, the levelling-up agenda will need to be tailored to the particular circumstances of these different archetypes.

At a national level the Index highlights that the UK is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, ranking 13th out of 167 nations. It benefits from one of the best education systems globally, an increasingly high quality natural environment, and a strong and open economy that has seen significant improvements in the quality of infrastructure, labour force engagement, and competitiveness.

The Index shows that:

  • The country has seen a significant improvement in education, with all regions experiencing improvements in outcomes at secondary level and in the skill levels of the adult population.
  • The UK’s natural environment has improved, with reductions in emissions – including decreases in CO2 emissions from industry, commercial sources, and transport – as well as reduced exposure to air pollution, an increase in the number of tress being planted, and a larger proportion of waste being recycled.
  • The country has enjoyed increasing, albeit low, GDP growth and historically low unemployment – with the rate of unemployment nearly halving in the decade before the pandemic, from 7.7% to 3.9%.
  • The UK has continued to improve its infrastructure, especially transport and communications, with average internet download speeds rising nine-fold from 8 Mbps to 72 Mbps over the last decade.

However, the Index also reveals that the country’s prosperity is currently being undermined by a deterioration in aspects that lie outside of the traditional focus on GDP, infrastructure, and transport. These include the safety and security of local communities, people’s physical and mental health, conditions for local enterprise, key aspects of social capital, and, to a lesser extent, the effectiveness of local governance.

It shows that:

  • The nation’s safety and security has deteriorated over the last decade, including in 13 out of 15 regions and three quarters of all local authorities. There have been significant increases in violent crime, including homicides, sexual offences, and the frequency of terrorist attacks, and civil disorder has worsened, with increasing rates of weapon possession and public order offences.
  • Health has deteriorated across all regions of the UK over the last decade, and the country’s health systems were simply not ‘pandemic ready’. There has been a significant decline in the number of care home beds and in the percentage of people that are admitted, discharged, or treated within four hours of attending A%E. In addition, there has been an increase in the prevalence of depression (up by 66%), cancer (up by 52%), and dementia (up by 40%).
  • There has been a marked deterioration in the quality of local conditions for businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors since 2011. Many businesses report severe skills shortages and barriers to doing business. Things that help to drive enterprise, like flexible local labour markets, are also deteriorating.
  • Key aspects of social capital are deteriorating. The strength of families appears to be weakening, with rising numbers of looked after children and children on protection plans, as well as a slight decline in the number of times a week that families each together. In the 10 years prior to the pandemic, there was a decline in the strength of people’s social networks and a fall in institutional trust.
  • The quality of local governance has declined in the UK over the last decade, largely due to reductions in local election turnout and the collapse of political choice. The number of local authorities that have not seen any change in the ruling party over the last 20 years increased from 42 a decade ago to 66 today.

Professor Matthew Goodwin, Director of the Legatum Institute’s Centre for UK Prosperity, said: “This Index is the most ambitious and comprehensive assessment of prosperity across the country to date. With detailed data on all boroughs and council areas across the four nations of the UK, it is a transformational tool that can help policy makers and influencers target their interventions more effectively on the journey towards greater prosperity. The Index will be updated annually, allowing citizens, businesses, local authorities, regions, and national government to track their progress over time and hold decision-makers to account.

“The holistic and rigorous approach we have taken has allowed us to identify issues that have previously been missed in the discussion about how to level-up the country. Genuine prosperity is about far more than building a strong economy or giving people bridges and trains. The Index shows that we also need to invest in areas such as safety and security, health, enterprise conditions, and family and community life if we are to see all citizens, neighbourhoods, and communities reach their full potential.

“This is why, while we support the focus on levelling-up regions that have historically been left behind, we believe that the Government can be bolder. We need to do more than just level-up left behind areas to the status-quo. We should be much more ambitious and aim to reach entirely new heights by creating the conditions that will put all regions and communities into the fast lane toward greater and long-lasting prosperity.”

CEO of the Legatum Institute, Baroness Philippa Stroud, also commented: “We are launching the UK Prosperity Index at a unique moment in our country’s history. The UK stands at a reset moment, charting a new course towards ‘Global Britain’ and finding a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic as a global leader in the design, development, and distribution of effective vaccines.

“To make the most of this moment, the country will need to unlock prosperity across all of its regions and communities. In many ways the UK is well positioned to do this – it is an amazing country with an open and vibrant economy powered by innovators, robust national institutions, among the best living conditions globally, and a world-leading education system. But there are clear challenges, and we cannot take our prosperity for granted.

“There has been much concern about the economy, but actually we should be focusing on who we are becoming not just what we are getting. To become a really prosperous nation, every region of the UK needs to become a place where we truly value the family and care for one another, where we invest in our mental and physical wellbeing, and where we can innovate and build businesses that are not stifled by unnecessary regulation.

“The decisions the country makes now will have a profound impact on its future development for generations to come. We hope our Index will help national and local leaders in all sectors set their agendas and implement strategies that will unlock real prosperity across the whole of the UK.”