UK Central: the West Midlands sets an example for the rest of the country to follow

A holistic approach to infrastructure will encourage growth.

The recent recession has affected all parts of the UK, but it would be wrong to think that everyone was affected equally and news stories around banking failures in the city of London have often obscured the even more painful reality facing regions. Figures released by the ONS in 2011 revealed that workers in the manufacturing heartland of the West Midlands faced the sharpest increase in unemployment during the recent recession, while London and the south east were cushioned from the worst of the job cuts. The unemployment rate in the West Midlands shot up from a pre-recession trough of 4.5 p

Commuters boarding a train. Photograph: Getty Images

Jerome Frost is Leader of the UK-MEA Planning Practice at Arup and Project Director for UK Central.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.