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Productivity project shortlisted for national award

A project whose research was explicitly referenced in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year has been shortlisted for a major national award.

The Productivity Insights Network+ research programme, and its allied Rebuilding Macroeconomics project on Regional and Urban Inequalities, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) between 2018 and 2021. It has been announced as a finalist in the ESRC’s Celebrating Impact awards 2022 which recognise the success of ESRC-funded researchers in achieving and enabling outstanding economic or societal impact from their research.

Professor Philip McCann, Chair of Urban and Regional Economics at AMBS, was the Co-Director and Principal Investigator of the project, alongside Professor Tim Vorley from Oxford Brookes University. Both were based at Sheffield University Management School during the life of the Productivity Insights Network.

Professor McCann said it was a “real honour and pleasure” that the work has been recognised with the nomination. “Our work explicitly aimed to influence policymaking at the highest levels and the outcomes of our work clearly demonstrate that we achieved this. It was very much a team effort where everyone played their part, and much of the work involved has been feeding into the larger scale research programme of The Productivity Institute.”

Levelling Up

Professor McCann is a co-investigator and the Geography and Place theme leader at The Productivity Institute which is exploring how the productivity differences between leading and lagging places have evolved in the UK, and how this relates to the provision of public services, health and educational outcomes. The research is specifically investigating the reasons for the mixed performance of interventions, comparing them with international practices.

The Productivity Insights Network+ research programme had up to a dozen direct or indirect references in the Levelling Up White Paper. As he adds: “It was really important for us to get this level of traction with such an important policy paper, and in particular we provided evidence and data around regional inequalities.”

The project particularly aimed to try and change the tone of debate around productivity issues to involve people from a wider range of disciplines working with economists, while also focusing on the role that geography plays in challenges around productivity.

“We set out to increase the capability of researchers to work with people in fields outside of academia and also with government. For instance, not only did we work with Whitehall, but we also worked with the three devolved administrations and also with city regions within England. It was all about translating academic knowledge into a context that was amenable for policy debates.”


The ESRC awards feature six categories ranging from outstanding impact in business and enterprise, to impact in public policy and society. This year the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are a prominent theme among the finalists which cover a diverse array of topics, from environmental protection and conservation to regional inequality.

ESRC’s interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park, said: “The Celebrating Impact competition is an opportunity to pay tribute to the UK’s world-leading economists and social scientists, highlighting how their work makes a difference to people and organisations in the UK and beyond. The impacts of all the finalists are impressive.”

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on 2 November. You can read full details of all the award nominations.