September 19, 2018

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  • New data shows two in five people in the UK live in towns[1].
  • Report finds that votes for Brexit in fast growing and declining towns had a key role in shaping the ‘leave’ majority.
  • Those in towns and regions that voted for Brexit will be most likely to suffer the worst consequences for at least the next 10 years.
  • A nationwide ‘towns deal’ needs to be considered that links national, devolved, municipal and local resources in rebuilding Britain after Brexit.

The Carnegie UK Trust, an independent foundation, is calling for more attention to be paid to Britain’s towns – after a new study finds that two in five of us identify as ‘townies’.

The report, New Powers, New Deals: Remaking British Towns after Brexit, emphasises that towns who were more likely to vote leave are the areas of the UK that could lose most from the Brexit process.  The report calls for a UK-wide ‘towns deal’ to provide focus and support to towns after Brexit.

The report’s lead author, Professor Duncan Maclennan said: “Our research tells us that those who voted to leave during Brexit were more likely to live in towns that have been neglected by policy makers. These difficulties primarily arose because of UK failures in manging places rather than membership of the EU.

“Brexit is more likely to exacerbate than resolve the difficulties of most UK towns and although it may be too soon to really know what the precise impact of Brexit on towns will be, it’s clear that there needs to be action now to ensure that present neglect ends. Towns therefore need to urgently rethink their economic futures, and this needs to be done whether Brexit is soft, hard or even cancelled.”

As well as examining the impact that Brexit could have on towns, including the loss of skilled labour for migrant workers, reduction of funding packages for the poorest communities and negative impacts on tourism, the report also has revealed a need for policy makers to identify regional support policies for towns.

Professor Maclennan continued: “We have identified areas in the report which need significant change and we believe that a ‘towns deal’ whereby national and devolved governments consider setting up investment vehicles for towns, similar to city region deals, should be considered.

“Brexit is an opportunity to catalyse change that gives towns a new, more central role in public policy. It’s also an opportunity to remind governments that towns matter and that the key issues that towns face need to be addressed, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations.”

The report recommends that policy makers at all levels (UK Government, devolved legislatures and local government) need to:

  • Develop strategic approaches to towns
    • Challenges should be clearly identified and a vision for change, based on evidence and opportunities, set out for towns now and into the future.
  • Better understand the wellbeing challenges and opportunities facing towns
    • There should be a centre of excellence, or ‘what works’ style organisation, charged with reviewing and disseminating international experience on what drives successful town development. It should support local town’s policy makers and practitioners to reflect on the evidence base within their local context. In particular, post- Brexit, local towns require better economic development data.
  • Support local policy makers and practitioners (below the local government level)
    • Build local capacity to develop town’s strategies and ensure that the right institutions are in place and sufficiently resourced to deliver local change. The social sector has a significant contribution to make to this agenda and to delivering sustainable local change.

In the final six months leading up to the departure of the UK from the European Union, Carnegie UK Trust will be continuing to work with policy makers and towns across the UK, analysing issues and actions related to this change.

The report, New Powers, New Deals: Remaking British Towns after Brexit here.

A short leaflet summarising the key points for those working in towns can be downloaded here.



[1] Quantifying Kindness, Agency and Place: a five jurisdiction study (forthcoming), Ipsos Mori on behalf of

Carnegie UK Trust