Urban voices are not being heard by Government, new survey finds

With Westminster politicians focused on Brexit, city leaders say their needs are not being adequately represented nationally and are ambitious about taking on more responsibility.

Press release published on 5 December 2018

This is according to a new survey of UK city leadership published today by Centre for Cities, the only UK urban economic think tank, and Arup, a leading design and engineering consultancy.

The inaugural UK City Leaders’ Survey asked the elected leaders of the UK’s largest urban areas about their ambitions and frustrations on issues such as Brexit, devolution, the upcoming Spending Review and housing.

Eighty-four per cent of leaders surveyed responded that their needs are not sufficiently represented at the national level, while just a fifth (22 per cent) rated their current relationship with Government Ministers as ‘positive’.

Leaders made clear their ambitions to see more devolution across diverse areas of policy with transport, housing and apprenticeships topping their wish lists.

On Brexit, city leaders said they wanted more say over key policies that will affect them as the UK leaves the EU. Some 81 per cent of those surveyed wanted a say on funding coming back from Brussels and how it is spent in their areas (the Government’s proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund).[1]

The survey found:

  • 79 per cent of respondents when asked to choose from positive, neutral or negative – said that their relationships with Government Ministers are either neutral or negative in contrast to their relationships with local business and community groups (89 per cent positive).
  • When asked about the areas of policy where devolution of powers would have the greatest positive local impact, apprenticeships (68 per cent), transport and infrastructure (65 per cent) and borrowing for housing (62 per cent) were the top three areas.
  • Elsewhere, housing and regeneration were clear policy priorities, while social care was identified by almost every leader as the service most under pressure.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:

“Westminster is preoccupied, but it needs to listen to the urban voices this survey amplifies. City leaders are rightly ambitious about supporting the needs of their local areas, and they have specific expectations when it comes to Brexit, so Government needs to set out what ‘taking back control’ means for cities.

“Most importantly, the government needs to send a message to city leaders that their voices are being heard on the national stage. These leaders are the best-placed to bridge some of the growing economic and social divides taking hold of the country. They understand the needs of their local residents, and it is imperative that they are given the tools to address them. The cities in this survey have voiced their dissatisfaction with ministers and a moment of change in the economy now is the time to respond.”

Joanna Rowelle, Director, Integrated City Planning, Arup said:

“We are one of the most centralised countries in the world, but this is changing. This survey shows that city leaders are ambitious to take on more responsibility. They have a major role to play in improving housing, building transport links, shaping education and addressing climate change. These civic leaders are key to delivering more inclusive economic growth for the whole of the UK.”

A copy of the full survey findings is available on request.


For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Simon Walsh, Communications Manager at Centre for Cities, on 0207 803 4316 or s.walsh@centreforcities.org


Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, and Alexander Jan, Chief Economist, Arup, are available for interview.

The City Leaders’ Survey was distributed to the leaders and mayors of the local and combined authorities that make up the 63 largest urban areas in the UK – using the Primary Urban Area definition – a measure of built-up area. In all, 23% of leaders filled in the survey, equivalent to 37 responses out of 164 leaders and mayors. All responses were gathered between 26 September and 26 October 2018.

The survey was modelled on the Menino Survey of US mayors, which, since 2014, publicises the views and concerns of American city leaders, as well as supporting them to make the most of their collective influence.

About Centre for Cities

Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities. We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies. We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange. For more information, please visit www.centreforcities.org/about

About Arup

Arup is the creative force at the heart of many of the world’s most prominent projects in the built environment and across industry. We offer a broad range of professional services that combine to make a real difference to our clients and the communities in which we work. We are truly global. From over 87 offices in 34 countries our 14,000 planners, designers, engineers and consultants deliver innovative projects across the world with creativity and passion. For more information, please visit https://www.arup.com/

[1] Leaders could choose as many options as applied. The options were: Funding from former EU funding regimes; inward investment strategy; public procurement and state aid rules; skills; trade strategy; visas and immigration for existing residents; and visas and immigration for future residents. Leaders could also state an ‘other’ option if they wished.