Philip McCann discusses 'The UK Regional–National Economic Problem'

We caught up with Philip McCann to discuss his exciting title, The UK Regional–National Economic Problem, which is part of the Regions and Cities series. Read on for the full interview, and to find out more about this title and the author...

In recent years, the United Kingdom has become a more and more divided society with inequality between the regions as marked as it has ever been. In a landmark analysis of the current state of Britain’s regional development, Philip McCann utilises current statistics, examines historical trends and makes pertinent international comparisons to assess the state of the nation.

The UK Regional–National Economic Problembrings attention to the highly centralised, top down governance structure that the UK deploys, and demonstrates that it is less than ideally placed to rectify these inequalities.

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1. What influenced you to write this book?

I had been thinking about writing such a book for more than a decade and indeed I have been collecting material in earnest for as many years during the time that I was working outside of the UK. My major motivation for writing the book was that when looked at from outside and in the light of the experience of other countries, the UK is just such a puzzle. So many of our internal debates do not stand up to scrutiny when examined in the light of international evidence and only by considering international comparisons over decades can we begin to make sense of the UK’s particular features, its weaknesses, its challenges and opportunities. What became very evident to me is that so many of the UK’s national economic and governance problems are fundamentally regional issues, to an extent which hardly exists elsewhere in the OECD, and in turn, solutions to the problems can only be sought in regional economic arguments.

2. What is the one key message you hope readers take away from this book?

It is not possible to understand the fundamental productivity and prosperity problems facing the UK economy as a whole without explicitly understanding the geographical underpinnings of the UK economy. The data and evidence on these points is overwhelming, although it has been very scattered and my book provides an overarching framework within which to examine the evidence. As such, it is also essential to move away from ‘national’ policy narratives and much more towards regional, city and local policy-related discussions.

3. What is the most common misconception surrounding this topic that you would like to clear up?

For me there are two main misconceptions. On the one hand, one common macroeconomic misconception is that economic geography is not so important for understanding UK national economic and governance issues. On the other hand, an urban economic misconception is that agglomeration arguments explain what is happening in the UK. Neither of these arguments are really correct. The reality is much more complex than either of these positions imply.

4. What upcoming projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working with an international team led by the City-REDI Institute at the University of Birmingham on the regional, city and sectorial impacts of Brexit. This research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the ‘UK in a Changing Europe initiative’. I am also due to start working on a large multi-institution research programme examining the UK’s productivity challenges.


Philip McCann is Professor of Urban and Regional Economics in Sheffield University Management School. He is also the Tagliaferri Research Fellow in the Department of Land Economy at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Groningen. Educated at Cambridge University Philip has held Professorships in six countries and four different continents and has published in almost every area of economic geography, regional and urban economics, including the world’s best-selling textbook in the field. He is one of the world’s most highly cited scholars in these fields and his research has won academic awards in several countries. Philip has also previously been a Special Adviser to two different EU Commissioners for Regional Policy, and has also advised four OECD directorates, the European Commission Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, the European Investment Bank, and government bodies in various countries. In recent years he was an independent economic advisor on both the IPPR North Commission Northern Prosperity is National Prosperity and the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review for HM Treasury.

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Take a sneak peek...

Click on the book cover image below to read Chapter 1 of The UK Regional–National Economic Problem.