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State of the State: bullish, at least in the Midlands

I recently joined the Midlands Engine’s Quarterly Economic Briefing. It was a terrific event – albeit online due to train strikes – and my job was to present regional findings from our recent State of the State report. The latest edition features a survey on public attitudes towards government, and it highlights some significant differences between regions of the UK like the Midlands. Let me share a couple of examples.

Our first survey question explored the balance of tax and spending. We essentially asked the public if they want lower taxes with less public spending or higher taxes with more public spending. The results were a very mixed picture: a third of the public want lower taxes while 29 per cent want higher spending. Just 17 per cent said the current balance of tax and spend is about right. That means few people back the status quo, and the majority want a change in direction – but there’s no consensus around which direction to go in.

Our survey data shows that same split is mirrored across the Midlands, give or take a percentage point. But some regions differ more significantly from that nationwide average. Greater London is the region most likely to back higher public spending while the North East is much more likely to back lower taxes. Take a look at the report online for a full regional breakdown.

The second survey question asked the public to name their priorities for improvement in the years ahead. We wanted to understand what the public want government to prioritise. In the Midlands, as across the UK, the public’s top priority is the cost of living crisis and their second is NHS waiting lists. The region’s third priority – above crime, social care and immigration – is climate change. Some commentators have argued that the UK Government has looked distracted from net zero in recent months but the public clearly wants it to take action. The latest machinery of government changes, which create a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, might go a long way to assure people that Whitehall is indeed focusing on climate issues.

The Midland’s Engine event closed with a panel session to explore the outlook for the Midlands. To sum it up, I think everyone agreed that the economic picture is pretty sobering but there’s a great deal for the region to be bullish about – not least the potential of emerging green growth opportunities and the trajectory of regional devolution. There’s more on that in the Midlands Engine’s excellent State of the Region report.

If you missed the Midlands Engine’s Quarterly Economic Briefing you can listen to the recording here.