neighbourhoods, cities and regions. The public service agreement on regional growth commits the government to ‘improve the economic performance of all English regions and reduce the gap in economic growth rates between regions’. There is little evidence of significant progress against this objective. The role played by the regional development agencies (RDAs) is hard to assess. There is no compelling evidence on whether RDAs are a good or bad thing. The government has also committed considerable resources to trying to improve outcomes in deprived neighbourhoods. Expenditures have provided important public goods, for example, improved social housing. But there appears to have been little progress in narrowing the gap between the outcomes for the most seriously disadvantaged individuals and the rest. As with RDA expenditure, it is difficult to get compelling evidence on the impact of these initiatives. Based on the best evidence that we have available (for the New Deal for Communities), a reasonably well-funded ‘area-based initiative ’ has not, on average, improved individual outcomes in targeted areas. Some argue that there can be no assumption that ‘success ’ is best measured by what happens to individuals as opposed to what happens to areas. Most economists would disagree with this suggestion: they view improving places as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. Understandably, constituency-based politicians often care about area outcomes irrespective of the effect on individuals. Add to this the fact that voluntary ‘sorting ’ in response to initiatives makes their impact very hard to evaluate and it is clear why the thinking of all political parties on the objectives for – and effectiveness of – spatial policy remains muddled.