Published on 5 December 2023
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Townscapes: A Universal Basic Infrastructure for the UK

Spatial disparities in infrastructure availability are wide and often growing across England. In a new report, Stella Erker, Diane Coyle and Andy Westwood explore how Universal Basic Infrastructure could ensure a minimum level of services and amenities for all, and boost national economic growth and quality of life in the UK.

The UK faces a significant challenge of spatial inequality, with certain regions and towns experiencing economic decline and a lower quality of life. Despite political discussions and interventions, the situation has not improved, and the “left behind” places continue to face challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, energy shocks, and a cost of living crisis. The Levelling Up White Paper acknowledged the issue but fell short of providing specific solutions.

This report proposes the concept of Universal Basic Infrastructure (UBI) as a comprehensive solution to address the disparities. UBI, analogous to the idea of universal basic income, focuses on the collective provision of essential services and facilities rather than individual incomes. It emphasises the importance of physical and social infrastructure in fostering economic growth and improving the overall well-being of communities.

The report argues for increased public investment in infrastructure, highlighting the low levels of investment in the UK compared to other countries like Germany, France, and the US. It suggests that UBI should encompass a range of public services, including healthcare, education, public transport, and broadband connectivity. The goal is to establish a minimum standard of infrastructure that every place should have, promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities.

The emphasis on universality is a key principle, acknowledging the trade-off with narrow economic efficiency in public provision. The researchers propose a per capita formula to ensure that core local services and facilities do not fall below minimum standards. It calls for a shift in policy focus towards long-term investments in human and knowledge capital alongside improvements in social infrastructure.

The report also discusses the role of the private sector in providing essential community assets and suggests the establishment of a Community Asset Register to identify and fund vital local assets. Additionally, it compares the infrastructure provisions between the UK and Germany, highlighting the need for more decentralised governance and consistent infrastructure across regions.

In conclusion, the report urges a profound change in the distribution of decision-making power and significant capital spending to bridge the gap between the existing infrastructure and an acceptable minimum. The commitment to achieving a minimum level of infrastructure everywhere is seen as crucial for fostering growth, reducing inequality, and ensuring long-term economic prosperity.

Report: Townscapes: A Universal Basic Infrastructure for the UK
Media release: Services across England now lag far behind East Germany, as experts call for ‘universal basic infrastructure’ in UK
Blog: A Universal Basic Infrastructure for the UK


Diane Coyle 2018

Professor Diane Coyle

Bennett Professor of Public Policy and Co-Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

Professor Coyle co-directs the Bennett Institute with Professor Kenny. She is heading research under the progress and productivity themes. Biography Professor Dame Diane Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at...

Stella Erker

Research Assistant

Stella is a Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. She holds a BSc in Social Policy from the London School of Economics and a Master of Public...

Professor Andy Westwood

Andy Westwood is Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester and a Director of the ESRC funded Productivity Institute. He has worked as an expert adviser to the...

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