Today’s local elections are as important for the future growth of our cities as they are for the 27 county councils and eight unitary counties up for re-election.
Despite Bristol being the only city council involved, the Government’s local growth agenda is enshrining new economic geographies into policy; arrangements that place renewed importance on the development of strong working relationships between city and county government.
The Government has explicitly recognised that cities, in most parts of England, drive local growth and investing in them is most likely to deliver returns for their wider area. But the arrival of Local Enterprise Partnerships in 2011 set the scene for the evolution of new governance relationships at sub-region or city region scale. Asked to form joint local authority and business groupings that made economic sense, many across the country opted for collaborations at county scale. Just a handful of LEPs bucked the trend and chose to involve more than one county in their partnerships.
City Deals are also driving the creation of new partnerships between cities, districts, counties and their LEPs to agree, and deliver on, shared local growth priorities. And now that the Heseltine growth review has confirmed LEPs as the future focus for devolved funding streams economic development, city authorities and their counties have even more incentive to make these new arrangements work.
Those politicians celebrating victory tomorrow will need to be brave enough to pursue new ways of working in the years ahead, making clear to Government that they are ready and willing to share responsibilities and cooperate on projects locally that can deliver economic growth. Failure to do so means risking missing out on accessing new growth funds and the opportunity to gain greater local control of spending on transport, housing and skills.
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