Townscapes: A Universal Basic Infrastructure for the UK

Diane Coyle, Stella Erker, Andy Westwood

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


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.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2023

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • The Productivity Institute


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