The Spending Review will widen the north-south divide

Squeezing disproportionate amounts of public spending out of the regions will leave the country fiscally unbalanced and with regional disparities on the scale of most developing nations.

At Budget time we are now familiar with tables setting out the impact of announcements – particularly tax and benefit changes – on different household types. The Treasury Green Book now publishes a familiar bar chart showing the net effect of each Budget on different household deciles in order that we can judge how progressive its measures have been.

But what is less common is any analysis of how big fiscal decisions affect different areas of the country. At the last Budget, the Financial Times created an ‘Austerity Map’ of Britain showing how benefit changes were affecting different local authority areas but it is possible to go further than this and to map how changes across nearly all aspects of government spending affect different regions.

As part of a wider piece of work on government spending, IPPR North has carried out an analysis of yesterday's Spending Round announcements. Assuming that broad spending patterns in 2015/16 are similar to those today, in aggregate, departmental cuts will reduce public expenditure in the North East by £57 per person and in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber by £50 per person, compared with £43 per person in London and £39 per person in the South East.

Perhaps most significantly, though, when we look at the impact of departmental cuts as a proportion of the size of the regional economy (as measured by gross value added) the Northern regions are – once again - hardest hit with the North East suffering three times as much as London. 

Consider this alongside announcements concerning capital spending and the picture is compounded further with spending in London more than ten times that of the North East. As a nation we are already spending more than 500 times as much on transport infrastructure in London than we are in the North East, 25 times more than in the North West, but with the announcement of a government commitment to a further £9bn for Crossrail 2, it is likely that the capital city will swallow up more than 90% of all regional transport infrastructure investment in the coming decade.

Government will argue that its commitment to local growth comes in the form of the Single Local Growth Fund – the pot of unringfenced funding which will be bid for by business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). But given that Michael Heseltine proposed a £49bn fund over four years, the announcement is less than one-fifth of what LEPs might have hoped for, only going to prove once again how hard Whitehall finds putting the rhetoric of decentralisation into practice.

If government is serious about rebalanced growth then it must recognise that national prosperity depends upon regional prosperity. Squeezing disproportionate amounts of public spending out of the regions may well have a political and ideological logic to it, but it will leave the country fiscally unbalanced and with regional disparities on the scale of most developing nations. Mercifully, this is only a single year Spending Round, but it is beholden upon any incoming government to reverse this shocking pattern of public expenditure and ensure that northern prosperity is national prosperity once again.

Ed Cox is Director of IPPR North

@edcox_ippr

The Angel of the North sculpture overlooks the match between Gateshead and Esh Winning on May 2, 2013 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ed Cox is Director at IPPR North. He tweets @edcox_ippr.

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Forget sniffer dogs. To stop drug abuse in prison, fight the real enemy – boredom

Since I left prison in 2011, the system has had £900m sucked out of it. No wonder officers are struggling to control drug use.

It’s rare to go a day in prison without someone offering you drugs. When I was sentenced to 16 months in 2011, I was shocked by the sheer variety on offer. It wasn’t just cannabis, heroin, and prescription pills. If you wanted something special, you could get that too: ecstasy for an in-cell rave, cocaine for the boxing, and, in one case, LSD for someone who presumably wanted to turn the waking nightmare of incarceration up to eleven.

Those were sober times, compared to how things are today. New synthetic drugs – powerful, undetectable, and cheap – have since flooded the market. As the Ministry of Justice itself admitted in its recent White Paper, they’ve lost control: “The motivation and ability of prisoners and organised crime groups to use and traffic illegal drugs has outstripped our ability to prevent this trade.”

The upshot is that, rather than emerging from prison with a useful new trade or skill, inmates are simply picking up new drug habits. According to a report released on 8 December by drug policy experts Volteface, on average 8 per cent of people who did not have a previous drug problem come out of prison with one. In some of the worst institutions, the figure is as high as 16 per cent.

Why are people with no history of drug abuse being driven to it in prison?

There’s the jailbreak factor, of course. All prisoners dream of escape, and drugs are the easiest way out. But, according the report, the most common reason given by inmates is simply boredom.

Life when I was inside was relatively benign. On most days, for instance, there were enough members of staff on duty to let inmates out of their cells to shower, use a telephone, post a letter, or clean their clothes. Sometimes an emergency would mean that there might not be enough hands on deck to escort people off the wing to education, worship, drug therapy, healthcare, family visits, work, or other purposeful activities; but those occasions were mercifully rare.

Since then, the system has had £900m sucked out of it, and the number of operational staff has been reduced by 7,000. All such a skeleton crew can do is rush from one situation to the next. An assault or a suicide in one part of the prison (which have increased by 64 per cent and 75 per cent respectively since 2012) often results in the rest being locked down. The 2,100 new officers the MoJ has promised to recruit don’t come anywhere close to making up the shortfall. Purposeful activity – the cornerstone of effective rehabilitation – has suffered. Inmates are being forced to make their own fun.

Enter ‘synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists’, or SCRAs, often more simply referred to by brand names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘Black Mamba’. Over 200 of them are available on the international market and they are, today, the most popular drugs in British prisons. A third of inmates admitted to having used ‘Spice’ within the last month, according to a recent survey conducted by User Voice, and the true figure is probably even higher.

As one serving prisoner recently told me: "It's the perfect drug. You can smoke it right under the governor's nose and they won't be able to tell. Not even the dogs can sniff it out."

The combination of extreme boredom and experimental drugs has given birth to scenes both brutal and bizarre. Mobile phone footage recently emerged from Forest Bank prison showing naked, muzzled prisoners – apparently under the influence of such drugs – being made to take part in human dog fights. At the same establishment, another naked prisoner introduces himself to the camera as an ‘Islamic Turkey Vulture’ before squatting over another inmate and excreting ‘golden eggs’, believed to be packets of drugs, into his mouth. It sounds more like a scene from Salò than the prison culture I recall.

The solution to this diabolical situation might seem obvious: but not to Justice Secretary Liz Truss. Her answers are more prison time (up to ten years) for visitors caught smuggling ‘spice’, and new technology to detect the use of these drugs, which will inevitably fail to keep up with the constantly changing experimental drugs market. Earlier this week, she even suggested that drug-delivery drones could be deterred using barking dogs.

Trying to solve prison problems with more prison seems the very definition of madness. Indeed, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, over the last six years, inmates have received over a million days of extra punishment for breaking prison rules – which includes drug use – with no obvious positive effects.

Extra security measures – the training of ‘spice dogs’, for example – are also doomed to fail. After all, it’s not like prison drug dealers are hard to sniff out. They have the best trainers, the newest tracksuits, their cells are Aladdin’s Caves of contraband - and yet they rarely seem to get caught. Why? The image of a prison officer at HMP Wayland politely informing our wing dealer that his cell was scheduled for a search later that day comes to mind. Unless the huge demand for drugs in prison is dealt with, more security will only result in more corruption.

It might be a bitter pill for a Tory minister to swallow but it’s time to pay attention to prisoners’ needs. If the prodigious quantities of dangerous experimental drugs they are consuming are anything to go by, it’s stimulation they really crave. As diverting as extra drug tests, cell searches, and the sight of prison dogs trying to woof drones out of the sky might momentarily be, it’s not going to be enough.

That’s not to say that prisons should become funfairs, or the dreaded holiday camps of tabloid fantasy, but at the very last they should be safe, stable environments that give inmates the opportunity to improve their lives. Achieving that will require a degree of bravery, imagination, and compassion possibly beyond the reach of this government. But, for now, we live in hope. The prisoners, in dope.