Cities are delivering growth in the face of budget cuts. Westminster should trust them with more powers.
Everyone knows the saying “necessity is the mother of invention,” but I’m finding out the true meaning of that phrase as I visit cities across the country. Cities are being creative in the ways they are working to support and grow their places. It’s not that cities weren’t doing great stuff prior to the recession, but cities today have to pull together new resources, build new relationships and generate new ideas to get things done.
My recent visit to Ipswich is a good example of this. Despite budget cuts, or maybe in part because of them, the council is coming up with interesting ways to support the city.
Just to put Ipswich in context, it is one of the smallest cities in the UK. It consistently ranks in the middle for business performance, quite highly on innovation (due to links to BT and other tech companies), and is an affordable place to live. But the big challenge is skills, with low performance across the board.
The council is trying to make the most of its assets, and to use them creatively to tackle some of their challenges.
Physical assets, like the waterfront, have become a draw for new businesses who enjoy the amenities and the new offices. But some areas still need regeneration. So the council is trying to find ways to support more businesses to locate in that area and link them with the neighbouring university college and similar firms. In turn, they are looking into providing more flexible space for small firms to work and be near each other – to share not just space, but ideas.
Human assets, like the strong knowledge workforce in insurance and communications technology, serve as the basis for the council’s apprenticeship scheme. They recognise the skills weaknesses of some of the people living in the city, and are drawing on the strength of their professional services companies to help upskill the labour force.
Technology assets, like the new fibre broadband the council is installing for their bus management system, will not only improve bus services but it will increase capacity for other internet-based services from the council and other partners. For example, they council will be able to save money by linking their CCTV to excess fibre capacity on the system.
Councils today can’t afford to pull any punches. They have to use all the resources at their disposal to work smarter. Knowing a city’s assets is one challenge, but drawing on them to tackle the city’s weaknesses is another. The more cities can drive change and deliver growth, the more I hope government recognises they can be trusted with the power and the resources to be more competitive on a national and international level.
Senior Consultant, City Economics at Arup
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