The objective of the survey was to establish a clearer understanding of the views and priorities of UK urban leaders. While the sample surveyed is small, it offers some insight into where city leaders priorities and concerns lie.
Housing – especially social housing – is a particular priority
Throughout the survey, the leaders that responded clearly identified housing – and more specifically social housing – as an area of priority. On average, leaders allocated most additional capital funding to social housing and identified it as the biggest priority within housing itself. Over one-quarter of leaders also felt that improving housing affordability would help achieve more inclusive growth, and over one-third of all leaders identified housing as the public service under the most pressure. Added to this, with regards to the devolution of powers, the leaders surveyed broadly wanted to have more control over borrowing and planning for housing.
Adult skills are a priority – but not necessarily for funding
With regards to inclusive growth and responding to changes in the labour market, improving basic adult skills, in-work progression and supporting those who are economically or socially excluded from the jobs market tended to feature highly. Skills more generally were also a major feature of leaders’ overall economic priorities.
Yet education for over 18s was not highlighted as one of the services under most pressure for most leaders surveyed, and none of the leaders surveyed chose this as their top choice for additional spending when looking ahead to the spending review. Conversely, 16 per cent of leaders saw adult education cuts having the least negative impact among the options given. Devolution of apprenticeships and in-work training was, however, the most frequently chosen of the areas for devolution, demonstrating that there is an appetite for improvement in this area, but not necessarily with regards to budgets.
Social care is under pressure – and needs more funding
Of the public services identified as being under the most pressure, almost every leader chose social care. Similarly, increasing demand for services and revenue funding were seen as the biggest challenges in addressing services. A majority chose this area for additional funding from the upcoming Spending Review.
Local business and community relationships are strong, as is the appetite for devolution
The vast majority of leaders in this survey were positive about their relationships with local business and community groups and neighbouring local authorities. On the other hand, relationships with national-level stakeholders tended to be regarded as neutral or negative, with the relationships with Ministers being the most likely of all to be negative. Similarly, the vast majority of leaders believed that the needs of urban areas are not sufficiently represented at the national level.
In addition, the leaders surveyed were clear about their appetite for devolution, leaving nothing off the table when given a series of optional additional powers. While apprenticeships and in-work training came out ahead, no less than two-thirds of leaders would find more powers beneficial across all areas, including housing, business support and education.
Leaders want a say over how to respond to Brexit
Finally, of the city leaders surveyed, there was a clear interest in having more say over dealing with the outcomes of Brexit. This was particularly focused on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU funding, but also around inward investment, local procurement, skills and trade strategies.
Turning up the volume on the urban voice
Centre for Cities and Arup are each committed to working with city and national leaders to improve the economic prosperity of UK cities. This survey and the results in this report take the first step toward actively listening to city leaders about challenges and opportunities they face, their ambitions to act on these and where policy could be holding them back.
The aim is to repeat the survey annually, to develop a longer-term understanding of the needs of city leaders and to grow the participation in — and the prominence of — the survey to help raise the voice of UK urban leadership on an ongoing basis.