Economics Observatory awarded funding boost to address pressing economic questions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic

Important economic questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath are set to be answered thanks to a funding boost for the Economics Observatory.

The Economics Observatory (ECO), based at the University of Bristol, has been awarded £882,886 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The grant means that ECO can continue its work, following a successful pilot, for a further two years.

ECO comprises a growing network of universities nationwide and has established a group of lead editors from the UK’s four home nations to provide daily updates on policy questions, collating relevant research from leading institutions.

In addition to continuing its focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching repercussions, ECO also aims to support better policy and public engagement. Looking to 2021, vital economic topics relating to productivity, the environment, and inequality are likely to move up the policy agenda. ECO’s website will offer key information to nurture public debate and inform policy-making.

The editorial team are on hand to answer specific questions about the economy, ensuring responses are balanced, evidence-based and accessible. The ‘Ask a Question’ and ‘Submit Evidence’ features are designed to facilitate a dialogue, allowing anyone to post a question and receive an expert-led answers.

An expanded use of media, including an enhanced website, more data visualisations, as well as audio and video tools are among the improvements in the pipeline. As travel restrictions ease, ECO experts will participate in discussions on policies to aid economy recovery at a national, regional and local level.

Richard Davies has joined ECO as Director and will oversee its second phase. Professor Davies, the UK’s first Professor of the Public Understanding of Economics at the University of Bristol, and former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors at HM Treasury, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a life-altering event for everyone. It is changing every industry, transforming each aspect of our lives—from work and education, to how we shop and socialise.

“All of this is creating policy questions that span the entire country. The new support from the ESRC will help the observatory play a vital role in tackling this challenge, providing balanced and accessible economic information to assisting the country in doing as much as possible to offset the downside, and make the most of the new economy that will emerge.”

Professor Rachel Griffith spearheaded the establishment of ECO and remains a lead editor. Based in Manchester and at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), Professor Griffith said: “The pandemic and resulting economic crisis raised many questions and challenges for policy. The academic community responded very quickly, both in producing new research, and translating existing research to try to address these questions and challenges.

“ECO has made a significant impact by bringing together economists from a wide range of institutions and backgrounds to help make this research and analysis more easily accessible to decision makers and the general public. Sound and robust economic analysis will be key to dealing with the ongoing economic crisis and to helping the country recover.”

Professor Graeme Roy, an ECO lead editor based in Glasgow said: “The coronavirus pandemic will have profound and enduring impacts on society and our economy. Rebuilding will require bold and innovative policy solutions across all tiers of government in the UK. Indeed, with devolution, many of the policy levers to tackle the impacts of Covid-19 on jobs, public health and inequalities lie outside Westminster. By drawing on expertise from across the four nations of the UK, the Economics Observatory aims to help inform future policy choices at a national, regional, and local level.”

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the ESRC, said: “The Economics Observatory has made huge strides and is already proving its value, with a rich bank of accessible information on the economic issues raised by the pandemic. This further ESRC funding will enable the team to increase the ECO’s scope and impact, supporting policymakers in making tough economic decisions through the recovery and beyond.”