Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Sir Terry Leahy

Sir Terry Leahy

Founder of the Chair in Urban and Regional Economics at AMBS

Shaping the Debate

Sir Terry Leahy explains why research into regional productivity inequalities is so vital.

It is a privilege for me to give something back for the fantastic university education I received, and I can think of no better cause than to support research into the continued regional economic disparities that we see in the UK today.

Inequalities have an acute impact on the prosperity, social mobility, and quality of life of us all.

The UK has some of the largest regional productivity inequalities of any developed country in the world, and tackling these disparities is key to unlocking the country's growth potential. However, doing so requires extensive research into the key drivers of regional productivity inequalities and what can be done to solve them.

Both academia and business have a key role to play in working with policymakers to find and implement the solutions required.

I am therefore truly excited that the first Chair in Urban and Regional Economics at AMBS under my name is the award-winning economist Professor Philip McCann, a specialist in the analysis of regional economic inequalities. Philip has a global reputation in urban and regional economics, and his work has much to contribute to the growth prospects of the UK economy by unlocking the potential of the regions.


This is a subject I have long been passionate about. For instance, some 20 years ago I was a board member of Liverpool’s regeneration company Liverpool Vision which oversaw the successful transformation of a vast swathe of the city centre and its waterfront.

But there is still a huge amount of work to do in raising the GDP of cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, and further untapping their huge potential. In fact, in my view we need to grow them by at least 50% to even begin to catch up with where they should be compared with the likes of Hamburg, Munich and Milan.

But the answers must come from cities themselves, and that means having strong leadership in local government, business and civic society (which includes our internationally recognised universities in the regions).

Role of business

If you take the ‘business’ part of this equation, business communities have to step up and I think here there is work to do. I fully admit (and know from experience) that it's not easy for business leaders to get more involved in regional agendas when they are so busy running their own companies.

But we need them to take up more leadership alongside our mayors and political leaders in terms of driving growth strategies, because through their investment strategies business leaders play a huge role in terms of raising the aspirations and horizons of cities and city regions.

Indeed, city regions should see themselves like large companies, thinking about how they can compete internationally, what their investment strategies are, and what are the key strengths they can play to. Ultimately thinking about how they can create the wealth to help raise social aspirations.

Right now I think there is a genuine opportunity to get ahead of the devolution process and shape it.


Part of the problem is that because the UK has been so centralised for so long, regions outside London have become too acceptant of the status quo, resigning themselves to the fact that they will never have the powers or authority to make really big decisions.

But regions should take the opposite view, instead exploring the opportunities to help create a new model and partnership with Westminster.

In this regard I do believe that the devolution model is the right one, but there is still much work to do in terms of giving mayors greater powers to provide the true local leadership that is required in areas such as planning, raising finance, and controlling business rates.

Right now I think there is a genuine opportunity to get ahead of the devolution process and shape it, rather than just waiting in the hope that Westminster might one day give you the powers you seek. There is an opportunity to create real momentum, give direction, and challenge Westminster to come with us.

It is precisely why Philip’s research into areas such as granting more planning powers back to city regions or his analysis of regional capital markets, is so important. Academic research can, and will, help fashion the arguments for change.

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