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What is the Chair of Core Cities UK doing writing about the next Mayor of London’s priorities? Isn’t London’s strength a bad thing for the UK’s other major cities, monopolising Government resources and attracting our best and brightest?
Core Cities (which represents the ten largest economic areas in Britain outside London) has never adopted that view. All the economic evidence shows that if London grows, it creates opportunities for our Core Cities to grow as well. Our country is imbalanced, but stifling London’s growth would make the problem worse not better.
Our capital is a global city, top of the pile even when compared with cities like New York, Paris and Shanghai. Its growth in everything from tech to tourism boosts the UK economy, and this is good news for our cities.
That’s why Core Cities has worked in partnership with London on our City Centred campaign, which has successfully made the case for greater financial devolution from Whitehall to all of our cities, and played a key role in convincing the Treasury to devolve business rates – transforming the landscape of local government finance.
It is clear, however, that growth and productivity across the UK has been more uneven than in other developed nations. If all the Core Cities performed just at the national average, they would put £60 billion a year into the economy.
These figures cannot be explained by London’s growth alone. It is also an issue of levels of local autonomy, and the need for Core Cities to have the ability to invest in and control the levers of growth and productivity, as cities in other countries do.
That’s why the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and Great Western Cities are so important to economic rebalancing, not as a simplistic exercise in redistribution, but as a programme of progressive reform delivering more growth across the whole nation.
Rebalancing should, however, extend to the Government’s wider investment decisions, including looking seriously at where its Departments are located. For an example of radical thinking in this direction (although not a government department), we need look no further than the impact from the BBC’s investment in Media City in Salford.
We also believe that the Government needs to look again at the Gatwick and Heathrow debate, and seriously consider how our regional airports can contribute to meeting demand through more effective networking.
Using the airports on the outskirts of our great cities is a cheaper, greener and faster solution than either option currently on the table. Core Cities’ connectivity to London is good now, but will significantly improve once HS2 is up and running.
Much of the mayoral candidate’s manifestos contain recommendations that could equally be applied to Cardiff, Nottingham or Newcastle. Whoever the next Mayor is, we want them to continue to work with Core Cities on shared future challenges, as we have many issues in common – everything from housing supply, to air pollution, to community relations.
Innovative work on everything from energy supply to coping with the effects of climate change is going on across our network – work the capital can learn from. And we, in turn, will continue to learn from London’s example, including the Transport for London model, finding relevant ways of applying the same principles.
The same is true for wider devolution. Core Cities and London want similar things, but also require the ability to implement programmes for jobs and growth in ways that match unique local need.
One might argue that, without the London model it would have been harder to get traction on devolution for Core Cities, but the reverse is also now the case. Without the work our cities have done – for example on public sector reform – London might find it harder to initiate the change it also needs.
In this way the future of Core Cities and London – and therefore more than 50 per cent of the economy and population of the UK – are closely linked.
So my final recommendation to the next Mayor of London is to continue to work closely with the Core Cities – we have more in common than people think.
Sir Richard Leese is chair of Core Cities UK and leader of Manchester City Council
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