Policy experts, along with academics from the University of Manchester (UoM) and other guests, gathered at Manchester Art Gallery for the unveiling of a new publication brimming with evidence-based strategies to address regional disparities and advance the levelling-up initiative.

Titled “Power in Place” and published by the University’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester, this compilation encompasses research and proposals across nine public policy domains. These include bolstering involvement in decentralised policymaking, narrowing the achievement gap in schools for underprivileged children, and tackling health disparities in neglected communities.

During a special panel discussion moderated by Tom Pope, Deputy Chief Economist at the Institute for Government, Professor Francesca Gains, who holds the position of Professor of Public Policy at UoM, expressed her belief that significant regional discrepancies, with far-reaching implications for economic progress, were laid bare in the aftermath of austerity, Brexit, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

She elaborated, stating, “Above all, inequalities severely limit the opportunities and outcomes for individuals. Beneath these regional communities lie disparities that amplify this uneven landscape.”

Professor Gains, who co-wrote an article in “Power in Place” with her UoM colleague, Professor Liz Richardson, on fortifying involvement in decentralised policymaking, remarked, “The outcome inequalities we face necessitate markedly improved national policies, but regional devolution does present a wonderful chance to bolster regional development, innovation, and the integration of health and social care.”

She added, “The actual achievement of genuine progress in establishing sustainable and thriving communities will arise through the efforts of local leaders working alongside their communities. The crucial task for the upcoming government will be to align national policy tools with these communities.”

Joining Professor Gains on the panel were Councillor Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority Lead for Equalities and Communities, Edna Robinson, Chair of the People’s Powerhouse, and Dr. Luke Munford, Senior Lecturer in Health Economics at UoM.

Dr. Munford, who contributed a piece to “Power in Place” addressing health disparities in neglected neighbourhoods, informed the assembly that there was substantial evidence indicating that investing in social infrastructure in deprived areas, including supporting recreational activities such as dance classes, can lead to community empowerment and enhancements in individuals’ health.

He stressed, “However, this requires sustained and systematic funding. We must think beyond the short-term, two or three years. We must consider 10, 15, 20 years. Because if you invest in social capital and social infrastructure today, you won’t see a change in health tomorrow. You must commit to this in the long run. It needs to be community-driven; a one-size-fits-all national policy won’t suffice.”

Dr. Munford presented UoM research indicating that devolution in Greater Manchester, particularly concerning health and social care, had enabled the region to defy the trend of stagnant life expectancy seen in similar areas without devolution. He added, “Localised strategies can be effective, but I believe we need to push devolution further than we have in the past to reap even greater rewards.”

Dr. Munford advocated for local funding accessibility to be “driven and led by the community so that people aren’t left to fend for themselves in securing funding.”

He argued, “There should be some national coordination of the funding distribution, but we must prioritise areas with high needs.”

“Power in Place” is now accessible for reading on the Policy@Manchester website.