Traditionally Labour-voting “Red Wall” areas in the Midlands and north of England have been identified as the places most symptomatic of “Broken Britain”, contending with multiple generational, health and infrastructure issues. Many of these are the areas the Conservatives took in their 2019 general election landslide, with the promise of “levelling up” the country.
The Broken Britain index, curated by the think tank the New Britain Project, is based on 18 data points across health, education, policy, transport and local infrastructure measurements from 307 local authorities in England. Nottingham has been identified as the hardest hit area, simultaneously dealing with the longest A&E waiting times and the lowest teacher retention rates in the country. Four fifths – 80 per cent – of the bottom quarter of local authorities in the index are located in Red Wall areas in the Midlands and the north.
The report was released yesterday, 12 December, on the fourth anniversary of the 2019 general election. A central pillar of the Tory campaign focused on improving left-behind communities, particularly in the Midlands and north of England. In his victory speech, Boris Johnson directly addressed those “who voted for us Conservatives for the first time”, and promised to “spread opportunity to every corner of the UK with superb education, superb infrastructure, and technology”.
The Broken Britain index now reveals the West Midlands, followed by the north-east of England, to be the worst-off region in the country. The south-east and London were identified as the least deprived areas. “The Broken Britain index reveals a shocking betrayal of the government’s promises to ‘level up’,” said Anna McShane, director of the New Britain Project.
Alongside the overall Broken Britain ranking, the index is divided into three subgroups: “healthcare emergency” (covering NHS waiting lists, A&E waiting times and GP access, among other things), where the east of England has the worst outcomes; “forgotten generation” (including teacher turnover rates and GCSE attainment data), where the north-east was most starkly affected; and “crumbling communities” (which accounts for crime severity, food insecurity and the condition of roads), which again the north-east of England was the hardest hit.
“This isn’t just data,” said McShane, “it’s a story of communities and regions grappling with the decline in essential services – a narrative that’s become all too familiar across the country.”
The financial uncertainty facing many local councils across the country could further damage the prospects of Red Wall areas. Six councils have issued a section 114 notice – effectively declaring themselves bankrupt – since 2021, three of them this year.
Councils in England are dealing with a “funding gap” – the amount they will need to keep services running as they currently are, versus the money they are set to receive – of almost £3bn over the next two years, according to the Local Government Association. “The government needs to come up with a long-term plan to sufficiently fund local services,” said Pete Marland, a councillor and chair of the association’s resources board.
Marland added that that plan must include “greater funding certainty for councils through multi-year settlements and more clarity on financial reform so they can plan effectively, balance competing pressures across different service areas and maximise the impact of their spending”.
[See also: In 2024, Labour must offer hope]