University of Sheffield leads new research project to unlock the UK productivity puzzle

UoSTwo professors at Sheffield University Management School are leading a new national research network to forge new interdisciplinary social science insights about productivity in the UK.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded Productivity Insights Network, which launches this month, aims to improve our understanding of the factors affecting UK productivity.

Productivity is arguably the most pressing economic challenge facing the UK, with productivity growth having been slow since the late-2000s and the gap growing with other countries. Led by Professors Philip McCann and Tim Vorley, the Productivity Insights Network is an ambitious initiative, co-producing new research-based insights with public, private and third sector partners.

Professor McCann, Director of the Productivity Insights Network, said: “Over the next three years the Productivity Insights Network will provide a unique opportunity to make more sense of the UK productivity puzzle by advancing new interdisciplinary insights as well as how the puzzle can be addressed. The Productivity Insights Network will provide the government with a deeper understanding of the main causes of low productivity in the UK with a view to stimulate productivity.

“Understanding the productivity conundrum is not just central to the economic performance of the UK, but also raising living standards and reducing inequality. While productivity was once the preserve of economists, the Productivity Insights Network will bring together social scientists working in disciplines from management to sociology and planning to politics along with a range of public, private and third sector partners.”

Professor Vorley, Deputy Director of the Productivity Insights Network, added: “Despite being a political priority, the productivity puzzle continues to frustrate economists and policymakers. The aim of the Productivity Insights Network is to rethink the productivity issues facing the UK and to develop new insights that challenge conventional views.

“In order to better understand the UK’s productivity challenges, the Productivity Insights Network will employ a place-based lens to investigate the extent to which many UK productivity-enhancing and productivity-inhibiting processes are related to geography. Through commissioning a series of projects the Productivity Insights Network will unpack the complex interactions between factors of production across different institutional and geographical settings which we know the least about.”

The Productivity Insights Network has academic Co-Investigators based at the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Strathclyde, Durham University, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Leeds and the University of Essex, as well as two private sector Co-Investigators – Cambridge Econometrics and SQW Ltd. The wider Productivity Insights Network has a membership of over 50 academics as well as a growing number of public, private and third sector partners.

As well as providing thought leadership and being a forum for collaboration, the network will:

pull together interdisciplinary research groups and other networks in academia, policy-making and business;
promote the use of innovate methods
commission a series of research projects;
collaborate and cooperate with existing research centres;
contribute to policy development.

Dr Annie Gibney, Senior Portfolio Manager in charge of ESRC’s productivity priority, commented: “As a community of social scientists we must work hard to crack the UK’s productivity puzzle of exceptionally weak growth when compared to international competitors. We hope this new network will do wonderful work to help improve our understanding of productivity, and take us a step further towards sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”

Professor David Oglethorpe, Dean of Sheffield University Management School, added: “Understanding and improving productivity is a major societal challenge facing the UK that resonates with the mission and vision of Sheffield University Management School, and so we are delighted to be hosting the Productivity Insights Network.

“Led by Professors Philip McCann and Tim Vorley the Productivity Insights Network team is exceptionally strong and will undoubtedly make a real contribution in leading the productivity debate in the UK.”