Levelling up is a phrase which is heard a lot, but if the north of England and Westminster are serious about achieving it they could do worse than look to Germany, a major conference in Manchester has heard. Carsten Schneider, the minister for East Germany and equivalent living conditions in the German government in Berlin, appeared by video at Manchester Central during the Convention of the North on Wednesday (25 January).
And his words gave plenty of food for thought, especially as it came in the wake of a damning report by the IPPR North think tank which said that if the north of England was a country it would be second to bottom for investment of everywhere in the OECD, with only Greece faring worse. Mr Schneider spoke about the German experience of reducing regional inequalities since East and West Germany reunified, while the think tank encouraged delegates in Manchester to look abroad for levelling up ideas.
What did Carsten Schneider say about levelling up at the Convention of the North in Manchester?
Mr Schneider said that reducing inequality between regions in Germany has been a “cornerstone” of policy in Berlin for years and explained why such emphasis is placed on this.
He said: “The goal of creating equal living conditions everywhere in Germany can even be found in the constitution. There are good reasons for it. If regions are drifting apart, it is bad for everyone, including the growth regions. If regions flourish, the whole country will prosper.”
Mr Schneider shared three lessons from the German experience of levelling up. He said a carbon-neutral economy was “a big opportunity for regions to invest in infrastructure” and billions of pounds were being ploughed into major coal-producing areas to help them cope with government strategy to phase out coal mining and power stations in the 2030s. He said the money will go to making these regions “competitive,vsustainable and diverse”.
He also said that while governments can support structural change it is vital that citizens design the policies for their areas. “It is engaged citizens who know best how to leverage the potential of their regions,” he said.
Mr Schneider said the third lesson was that rural areas need incentives for more people to live there with good jobs and infrastructure. He also said more immigration is needed to regions in eastern Germany and the country needs to be more open and welcoming, saying “racism and discrimination are the enemies of progress”.
How is the UK doing on levelling up regions in comparison?
The scale of the challenge facing regions such as the north of England was starkly laid out by a report by the IPPR North think tank which showed that the north of England has lower levels of investment than anywhere in the OECD with the exception of Greece. In the State of the North report, the think tank’s authors looked at international competitors and highlighted that long-term job creation is 16 percentage points higher in Leipzig in Eastern Germany, than in the North of England.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham joined the voices calling for successful lessons from abroad to be learned in areas such as Greater Manchester.
Mr Burnham said: “Germany shows us what can be done when you hard-wire legal guarantees to tackle inequalities and empower local leaders into the fabric of your country.
“East Germany has seen long-term support and investment since the fall of communism – and it has worked. Cities in Eastern Germany are now powering ahead of cities here in the North.”