The urban policy agenda has gained a lot of ground since the 2010 Coalition Government, first with City Deals and later with the more substantive English Devolution Deals which offered combined authorities strategic powers over transport, skills and planning and a new form of urban leadership – the metro mayor.
While these Deals have allowed many cities to address some of their policy issues on their own terms, there is still a long way to go. There still exist stark and growing divides around the country. The ever-familiar North/South divide still dominates discussion around wages and opportunities. Added to that is a sentiment that there are places around the country that have been ‘ignored’ by Westminster-based policymakers, leading to a suggestion – accurate or not – that the vote to leave the European Union was driven primarily by residents of those ‘ignored’ places.
What is often missed from this narrative is the critical role that city leadership can play in addressing these political and economic issues.
City leaders are in the best position to continue to address the urgent and emerging political and economic challenges facing the country for two reasons. First, they are political guardians of the majority of British residents, business and jobs. Second, they are the politicians that govern up-close to the action and know their base well.
But city leaders in this country rarely hold the attention of the national, let alone global media about the stark challenges, and the opportunities that are theirs to take.
The UK City Leaders’ Survey, modelled on the Menino Survey of Mayors in the USA, was developed in order to provide more understanding of the needs of UK urban leaders, with the potential to then start addressing these needs.
The survey seeks to uncover an equivalent set of opportunities and concerns and a set of needs that can be understood and addressed by the National Government. In doing this, the survey explicitly asked what the priorities faced by different cities are and what they would do to address them – irrespective of any power or control they hold.
This report sets out the findings of the survey according to different themes and policy areas. The survey provides a first step into what the immediate priorities are for city leaders. It examines addressing the needs of local businesses and residents, and where the Government can and should provide a clear pathway to more effective city governance and long-term urban economic success.