Britain in the 21st century has felt more than a little dystopian of late. Rolling strike action, food prices soaring by 30%, hospitals overwhelmed with patients lying on trolleys in corridors, people forced to use warm banks to get through the winter.
So, in a perverse way, comparing the bidding process for levelling up funding to The Hunger Games, in which 13 poor districts of Panem compete to the death for scraps from the table of the lavishly wealthy Capitol, seems, well, actually quite appropriate.
Commenting on our story about some of England’s most impoverished councils missing out on funding despite tabling bids costing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, Labour’s Lisa Nandy, said: “It is time to end this Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another and Whitehall ministers pick winners and losers.”
It remains to be seen whether Labour can deliver on its own grandiose promise of “the biggest ever transfer of power out of Westminster” if it wins the next election, but what is clear is that turning the issue of regional inequality into a contest decided by central government makes a mockery of the whole idea of devolution.
This has come into stark relief with the publication of the list of the second round of over 100 successful levelling up bids. While new ferry services and tourist attractions will undoubtedly be welcomed by local communities, there is a superficial feel to all of it. It’s almost as if - whisper it - the government is more concerned with spinning some positive PR in potentially marginal seats than real and meaningful economic development.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes. But rather than scattering pots of cash across the UK, the government needs to use our hard-earned tax - and remember that we’re paying more than we have in decades - to fund systematic and wholesale improvements across the nation.
We need a proper industrial strategy that puts Britain on the leading edge of innovation (rather than merely opening more freeport tax havens). One that upskills workers and school leavers with well-paid jobs, preferably with a focus on the green industrial revolution.
We need radical improvements and urgent attention on the NHS and social care to address the deep-rooted health inequalities that have led to shocking differences in the accessibility of treatment and even life expectancy.
We need major reform to policing if trust is to be restored in officers after an unremitting series of scandals, and for communities to feel like they’re not being completely abandoned.
Headline-grabbing announcements on things like train station enhancements and new roads seem like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re all well and good, but they should come as a result of local councils having more control over their share of public cash, rather than this kind of battle royale scenario.
Let's just hope it doesn't get so bad that we have to pick up a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen and head out to hunt down our next meal.
On that note, enjoy your weekend!