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.

Getty
Show Hide image

There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.