Leave a comment
Be the first to add a comment.
Last week it was the Chancellor announcing his commitment to creating a northern powerhouse by investing in infrastructure, skills and innovation, particularly in the belt of cities across the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull, at an event attended by the Prime Minister. This week it’s Lord Adonis publishing his growth review and Ed Miliband setting out why cities are so important to the future prosperity of the nation. It’s exactly the kind of ‘race to the top’ on cities policy we should be seeing in the year before the General Election (and I was delighted we were quoted in both the Chancellor’s speech and in the Adonis Review).
What’s interesting too is that there’s a lot of common ground between the parties, even if they don’t like to admit it. Both the Conservatives and Labour are in favour of ‘city regions’: power at the level of the ‘real economy’ that people and businesses recognise, rather than determined by artificial local authority boundaries. Both focus on infrastructure, innovation and skills as critical to making the most of cities. Both agree – even if there are heated debates about the precise stats (more info on where our stats comes from is here) – that London is the dominant city in the UK economy, that other cities, especially in the north, are not realising their economic potential, and that something needs to be done to change this.
Clearly there are differences too. More progress has been made on devolving to cities over the past five years than in the previous government through City Deals and Local Growth Deals, even if they haven’t been as radical as we’d hoped. Now the Chancellor’s pitch is focusing on making a big difference by targeting investment in the north and our analysis suggests that’s absolutely right. It doesn’t stop other investment or devolution elsewhere, but making the most of the biggest cities in northern England – especially the largest, Manchester and Leeds – by improving connections, skills and innovation could create a place on a scale that strongly complements London. We also welcome the emphasis on directly elected metro mayors in exchange for clear powers.
Labour’s pitch has focused on making Combined Authorities the building blocks for greater devolution with strengthened LEPs acting as advisory bodies and with a much bigger single pot is also very welcome (we argued for something similar in Breaking Boundaries) – and potentially complementary to the Chancellor’s vision. There’s also a strong focus on innovation, infrastructure and skills with the theme running through the report that cities and city regions need much more of a say in how investment is targeted.
Both parties are absolutely right that we need to strengthen the economy outside London and that devolution is the way to do it. Now we need to see these commitments in the manifestos, and we need to see the kind of detail – whether in the manifestos or supporting documents – that makes sure the parties’ ambitions don’t fall into the beartraps of Whitehall foot-dragging, eking out negotiations over so many months that gradually all the ambition is chipped away. Cities policy cannot be a separate component to policies to support economic growth; it will mean both will fail. Instead, cities need to be at the heart of thinking about how the UK’s recovery is sustained. The race to the top is very welcome – let’s keep calling for it to continue.
Senior Consultant, City Economics at Arup
Be the first to add a comment.