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Given the radical changes to local government under this Government – LEPs, City Deals and budget cuts – I was interested to know if anywhere figured out how to make it all work. How do we get to a system of councils that can provide the roads, schools and homes we need with less money?
The overarching answer is working together. The Centre’s latest report Breaking Boundaries explains why councils need to be more collaborative to meet the evolving needs of ever-changing cities, and that the best way of achieving this is through a model of “tailored devolution”.
By working together, councils can achieve more than the sum of their parts. For example, combined authorities, like in Manchester and the four coming into effect next week in Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear, are formal arrangements that can manage strategy and investments across the area over which people live their lives. Thus combined authorities meet the strategic challenges facing local government across borders and service silos. The same could be done in counties if they had all the strategic planning powers as well (“strategic counties”).
However, far too few councils are working together in this way, at the expense of their local economies. All too often the political challenges of working together overshadow the economic benefits for the city. Working together means that each party has to give up some power to the other, that personalities and political views may clash, and that councils will have to share risks with each other in new ways.
So to get more places working together to provide better services and strategy for more prosperous cities, there needs to be a mixture of incentives, imposition and local initiative. The Greater London Authority and five combined authorities have all come about through:
Government therefore needs to go beyond the City Deals and Growth Deals to pursue a new model of ‘tailored devolution’ to our urban areas.
That means places with combined authorities or strategic counties, which can clearly demonstrate the ability to collaborate to deliver change, should have the kinds of powers the Greater London Authority has. This should include additional finance powers and the ability to establish a Transport for London style transport body with greater control over transport planning and fares. As future combined authorities and strategic counties demonstrate their ability to manage such freedoms, more of these powers should be made available to them.
Cities outside existing city-region arrangements, such as Reading, Milton Keynes or Leicester should be offered incentives to establish more formal ways of working together, such as Economic Prosperity Boards and Joint Management Teams, that cover the functional economic area.
Working across boundaries is not easy and councils will need to step up to the challenge. ‘tailored’ devolution offers a real opportunity for both national and local economies to reap substantial and long-lasting rewards from being ‘good neighbours’.
To learn more about how local government can work together in different ways to support economic growth and prosperous places, download Breaking Boundaries, check out the 1 minute video, or email email@example.com.
This research was supported by Capita.
Senior Consultant, City Economics at Arup
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