Tasmia Sarwar Nazah, Maysha Samiha Eshika, Lakum Mursalun
Apprentice, YPF Governance Apprenticeship
In consideration of the regional inequities that the UK struggles with, the Levelling Up White Paper was introduced in 2022, a policy approach aimed at reducing regional inequalities and promoting economic growth and opportunity in disadvantaged areas . Despite past efforts and pandemic challenges, ‘left behind’ areas persistently struggle. Hence, this crucial paper advocates for Universal Basic Infrastructure (UBI) as a solution, emphasising its role in addressing issues like inadequate public services. It stresses the importance of social infrastructure and highlights the UK’s lower public investment compared to Germany, France, and the United States. In fact, the study explores public and private sector alternatives, underscoring the need for committed policymakers for meaningful and lasting change.
The study examines UBI availability across locations and time, identifying components such as physical, public/social, and private infrastructure. Measures like the number of facilities, average distance, and population coverage assess UBI. Data from the UK and Germany enable comparisons, with maps illustrating UBI distribution. This approach offers a systematic way to evaluate UBI, pinpoint areas for improvement, and inform policies for equitable infrastructure access.
A significant number of changes have taken place in the distribution of key infrastructure in 11 local authorities in England from 2014 to 2023 – Bedford, Blackpool, Bolton, Cambridge, Central Bedfordshire, Manchester, Oldham, Peterborough, Rochdale, Stevenage, and Stoke-on-Trent.
Levels of universal basic infrastructure across local authorities: Examining the distribution of UBI and focusing on physical, social, and private infrastructure between 2014 and 2023 it is found that public transport availability has generally decreased across all areas, with significant variations. Central Bedfordshire, Bolton, Blackpool, and Bedford consistently have higher availability, while Cambridge and Stevenage have lower access. The availability of health services and education facilities has also decreased, with notable disparities between areas such as Cambridge having the highest number of tertiary education facilities while lacking in the primary and secondary levels. The number of police stations has also declined in all the areas except Bolton whereas the number of parks has declined in all areas except Blackpool. Libraries are an exception, as their numbers have increased. In private infrastructure, there’s a decline in the availability of various amenities like banks, supermarket chains, shopping centres, pharmacies, swimming pools, theatres and cinemas; on the other hand convenience stores, independent supermarkets, gyms, and restaurants have increased.
Levels of universal basic infrastructure in different types of places: Comparing UBI distribution in richer vs. poorer places, higher vs. lower population density places, and higher vs. lower population growth rate places revealed differences. Richer areas generally had lower public transport and primary and secondary education facility availability but more health services, further higher education, and libraries. Private infrastructure was generally more available in richer places, with some exceptions. Higher population density places had less public transport and police stations but more health services, higher education, and private infrastructure. Higher population growth places had less public transport and police stations but more health, education, and library infrastructure, along with certain private amenities.
Comparing universal basic infrastructure availability in Germany and England: Comparing UBI availability in Germany and England highlighted Germany’s overall better performance, especially in social and public infrastructure. Germany had higher availability of hospitals, GP practices, mental health providers, and pharmacies. Technical education provision was also more extensive in Germany. In physical infrastructure, Germany had more railway stations, while England had more bus stops.
Differences between the governance systems of Germany and England play a vital role in the significant variation of UBI distribution. Germany’s decentralised governance and local authorities having better access to resources and power to meet the community needs results in a better distribution of UBI across the locations. Whereas England’s centralised governance followed by difference of funding and investment priorities causes lack of coordination and provision of infrastructure at the local level.
The findings of the paper underscored disparities between areas and highlighted potential areas for improvement in England, with Germany serving as a benchmark.
The decline and variation in UBI provision have negative implications such as limiting opportunities, disproportionately affecting poorer communities, creating false trade-offs, and constraining housing development for economic growth. Comprehensive policies are needed to improve UBI provision, reduce variations, and ensure equitable access to critical infrastructure.
Funding and governing Universal Basic Infrastructure:
Three key challenge areas for UBI are cost, governance, and coordination. Local infrastructure is already funded but poorly planned and coordinated. Hence, adopting UBI would not necessarily mean vouching for new funding but prioritising the already existing funds and mainly coordinating them. Some services in the UK are funded fully or in parts by the private sector, for example, broadband and bus services. Other services and infrastructure must be built in growing communities. Mechanisms are already in place for the public and private sectors to split these expenses together.
Local Government Funding in England:
Local government has been stripped of funds and authority while the UK government and its institutions have become the focal point for policymaking capacity and resources. Seven English councils have announced bankruptcy in three years with many operating with high levels of debt.
According to research on local government funding (2023), significant gaps between allocation and assessed ‘relative’ need are found in a series of places. They show underfunding on a series of key services that would form a part of UBI and also a possibility of overfunding in some places. For example, in Oldham and Manchester, there is underfunding in police and public health but not in the NHS sector. Similar scenarios in different sectors are seen in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
On a positive note, the UK government has adopted the ‘levelling up’ shortly after the EU referendum and the 2019 election. Through this agenda, the focus of policy thinking has been shifted towards spatial inequality and its solutions but there lies a long road ahead for rebuilding the capacity of local government. To prevent further deterioration and move toward UBI, complete reform of the funding and governance of local councils is needed.
Identifying Social and Cultural Infrastructure: Identifying relevant social and cultural infrastructure is crucial and requires support from local communities and contributions from the private sector and individuals. Moreover, the local government should bear the majority of the responsibility for formulating and implementing UBI. Multi-level governance, strategic intent, and improved coordination between various departments, agencies, services, and the centre are a must for delivering UBI fruitfully.
For effective coordination, these new arrangements at local and national levels will need a UBI framework overseen by the Cabinet Committee. The initial attempt to outline the potential structure of a framework that ensures better UBI distribution is presented below.
- Local authorities should establish UBI plans and thresholds by monitoring population and forecasts, considering distance/density factors under the oversight of a coordinating Cabinet Committee.
- There should be a “preservation presumption” for UBI, particularly in smaller cities and existing towns.
- A “provision presumption” and a triggered planning process should be in place in expanding areas where there is, say, a population increase of more than 10,000–20,000 people.
- Establishing a new duty for public departments to regularly assess needs and provide it as a priority in all capital/revenue spending as agreed in spending reviews.
- Establishment of similar duties for relevant market regulators to make a ‘place-based’ focus a required feature of regulatory compliance
- A list of the various current procedures (such as funding and governance) supporting infrastructure and important services should be demolished.
- Making sure that all infrastructure and services have transparent accountability procedures in place so that citizens can easily identify the national, local, or combined government departments and agencies that are in charge of each.
UBI is crucial for equity, economic activity, and sustainable communities. It ensures access to basic services, fosters economic growth and attracts skilled workers. Implementing UBI requires a shift toward place-based strategies, acknowledging the interconnectedness of public and private sectors, civic institutions, and community networks. UBI lays the foundation for a progressive and dynamic future by investing in essential services and institutions for all areas.
Lead, YPF Editorial & Content Team