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And finally: the good news from flyover county

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April 27, 2018   3 mins

In yesterday’s UnPacked, I wrote about LEVC, the London Electric Vehicle Company. In its previous incarnation as the London Taxi Company, it manufactured London’s black cabs – and is now making the next generation of all all-electric cabs. A subsidiary of Geely, the Chinese vehicle manufacturer, LEVC aims to sell into other markets as public transport systems around the world turn their backs on the diesel engine.

What I should have added, however, is that the company is based not in London, but Coventry in the West Midlands.

The Midlands are part of Britain’s ‘flyover country’ – the equivalent of rustbelt and red state America. Or at least that’s the way they’re seen by the metropolitan elites, for whom ‘the provinces’ are an economic and cultural drag on London’s global success story. To the extent that the ‘national’ media covers the rest of the county, it is to report on bad news.

Fortunately, there are some honourable exceptions and one of them is Tom King of Sky News, who writes about the good economic news coming from the Midlands:

“Just one national newspaper has bothered reporting plans from Meggitt, the defence and aerospace contractor, to build a £130m ‘super-site’ in Coventry that will support a similar number of jobs.

“Elsewhere in that city, Chinese company Geely recently opened a £325m facility to build electric taxis, employing 1,100 people.”

While the London establishment frets over Brexit, the Midlands have been getting on with business :

“During the three months to the end of February, the biggest drop in unemployment anywhere in the country was in the West Midlands.

“The East Midlands, meanwhile, has an unemployment rate lower than the national average.

“And both are seeing more job creation than anywhere in the country outside London. Between September 2016 and 2017, the most recent regional comparisons available, 74,000 jobs were created in the East Midlands and 95,000 in the West Midlands…

“Both regions remain strong in manufacturing with more people employed in ‘production’ in the East Midlands, as a proportion of the labour force, than anywhere else in Britain.”

As more and more people discover that the Midlands are capable of supporting human life, property prices there are heading upwards – though, happily, they remain far below the vitality-destroying levels of the capital:

“The estate agency and property consultancy Knight Frank published a report late last year, entitled ‘The Birmingham Boom’, highlighting the significant number of new businesses being formed in the West Midlands and in Birmingham in particular.

“It cited how the city has become the destination of choice for businesses relocating from London due to the cost of the latter…

“The best-known example is HSBC, whose ‘ring-fenced’ UK bank will be headquartered in Birmingham, involving the relocation of 1,000 well-paid jobs to the city.”

Could we be seeing a structural change in the UK economy – a long-term economic revival of the country beyond south east England? It is striking that, since 2010, the previously chasmic north-south gap in job creation has all but disappeared.

Certainly, it’s vital that the media wakes up to the economic potential of the Midlands and the North. For several decades, politics has been distorted by a narrative that locates the UK’s economic future in only one part of the country. As a result, undue emphasis has been placed on indicators like the buoyancy of the London housing market and its stock exchange.

That’s why successive UK governments have been overly-welcoming of speculation in UK property and dubious take-overs of UK companies. Not only have such ‘investments’ done nothing (or worse) for productivity, they’ve sucked-in exchange rate distorting flows of foreign capital. The long-term consequences of an artificially overvalued Pound can be seen in the UK trade figures – and in the damage done to those parts of the country that are especially dependent on manufacturing.

Following the financial crisis, and then Brexit, there have been ‘corrections’ to the value of the Pound – helping to redress the balance. However, in the long-term we need a geographically-unbiased economic policy.

We live in a political culture where policy follows PR. That’s why it’s so crucial that the media reports on economic good news from all parts of the country. Politicians love feel-good stories, especially those they can associate themselves with. If these can be had from locations beyond the Great Wen, economic policies will be tailored accordingly.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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