Sustaining the growth of places like Birmingham and Manchester should be top priority in the Government’s strategy to increase opportunities across the country.
Three months after taking office, the new Government’s emerging economic vision for the country has been best encapsulated by its promise to build “an economy that works for everyone” – a mantra repeated ad infinitum by ministers in recent months. This rhetoric reflects concerns about the so-called “left behind” places which drove the vote for Brexit, and has informed the launch of the Government’s new economic and industrial commission, tasked with driving growth “up and down the country, from rural areas to our great cities”.
It also echoes a perspective I often hear at meetings and in public events – that the previous Government’s economic policy and devolution agenda was too focused on major cities – and that the new administration should instead focus on boosting growth in places like Burnley and Blackpool, and moving firms and jobs from Birmingham and Leeds to Dudley and Wakefield.
However, as the following points illustrate, it would be a mistake for policy-makers to view the economic turnaround in places like Manchester and Birmingham as a fait accompli, or to adopt a “something for everywhere” approach when it comes to investment and political capital:
No-one would deny the economic, social and moral importance of ensuring that more people and places benefit from the global and technology changes that have buffeted the country over the last 25 years, and which will continue to do so over the next 25. But that should not be at the expense of our big cities, which will become ever more important as the primary hubs for the national and global economy over the course of this century.
The previous Government made great strides forward in recognising the diverse roles that different places – and cities in particular – play in generating prosperity and contributing to the national economy. As the new administration prepares for its first Autumn Statement in four weeks’ time, it is crucial that it builds on this progress, by resisting the temptation to spread limited monies and political focus equally across the country. Only by working with the grain of the economy and exploiting the continued growth in major cities can the Government hope to deliver on its vision of raising prosperity and opportunities for people across the country.
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I don’t know where you get the idea that Liverpool’s population is declining from. For a ‘Centre for Cities’ this is shocking ignorance of the truth. Liverpool’s population, particularly in the city centre, has grown very rapidly in recent years.
Let’s agree that there’s no denying the growth power of cities and their incidental role (your item 4) in energising their hinterlands, BUT let us also acknowledge that the ability of government and its often heavy tools is limited – and that is why large cities can be appropriate beneficiaries of policies created in Westminster. Governments do however have a wider responsibility for the wellbeing of all communities and, through them, engendering successful economic growth.
Therefore, I suggest, when policy initiatives are designed to bolster cities, those local leadership recipients should also be required to pro-actively engage in wider economic and societal development beyond their boundaries and imaginatively way beyond the default magnetic role outlined above.
So many city pressures on their public services, transport infrastructures and housing supply, are the direct result of UK internal migration and it would be interesting to identify city leaderships that can create positive outflows and repopulation and economic growth of under-resourced areas.