Join us
Orange welcome sign that reads Royal Geographical Society with IBG.

Become a member and discover where geography can take you.

Join us


Successive governments have tried to ‘rebalance’ spatial economic growth in the UK. Rebalancing the national economy was a core part of the UK Government’s economic strategy in the 2010s.

A flagship policy for delivering this was the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, first introduced under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition and particularly concerned with ‘Core Cities’, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, as well as Hull and the North East. According to the Centre for Cities, in 2013, the Northern Powerhouse region contained 16% of jobs in the UK; increasingly, devolution legislation has introduced combined authorities to govern large regional cities and urban areas, which agree to have a directly elected mayor and take on devolved powers.               

However, challenges remain, including problems of inadequate funding for policies; ‘counter-regional’ policies which favour London and the South East; and an incorrect diagnosis of the true origins of the problem. The degree of imbalance in the UK has in fact increased over the last thirty years, with northern cities lagging behind the South-East. The result of this is a United Kingdom that is now home to the largest spatial disparities in Europe and is also one of the most centralised OECD countries as found by the Centre for Cities.

e of policy-makers, influencers, practitioners, academics and business leads the UK Government's plans to rebalance the UK economy. Panellists reflected upon the Government's flagship 'Northern Powerhouse' policy, discussing whether this is likely to achieve the stated aims of shifting employment and growth away from the dominance of London and the South East, towards towns and cities in the North of England.



The RGS-IBG convened a Policy Forum event as part of the 21st Century Challenges series, in which expert panellists discussed approaches to this policy challenge. Questions discussed included:

  • How can we deliver effective governance?

  • How can we boost productivity in city regions by investing in human capital, skills and innovation?

  • What does evidence suggest could be the most successful infrastructure investments in financially challenged circumstances?

  • How can creating desirable, liveable spaces contribute to growth and rebalancing?

  • Is a ‘one size fits all’ approach appropriate for core cities?

Speakers on the panel, with their affiliations at the time, were Tom Bloxham MBE (Urban Splash), Sir Peter Hendy CBE (Network Rail),  Mark Dorsett (Caterpillar), Professor Ron Martin (University of Cambridge), and Professor Brian Robson OBE (University of Manchester). The event was chaired by Andrew Carter, Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Director of Policy and Research, Centre for Cities.

The event helped to build consensus and stimulate debate, sharing the views of expert panellists and providing a forum for attendees to intervene in the discussion.

Share this case study

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY NC 4.0), which permits use, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, provided the original work is cited and it is for non-commercial purposes. Please contact us for other uses.

How to cite

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2015). Cities, growth and rebalancing the UK economy. Available at:  Last accessed on: <date>