Yesterday the City Growth Commission launched its final report, Unleashing Metro Growth, at the RSA. It marked the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of the secretariat team and Commissioners.
We’ve spent the last 12 months travelling across the country, listening to businesses, civil society organisations and political leaders to understand how we might enable our cities to thrive. The UK’s centralised political economy is working for no one.
The Scottish referendum threw the concept of devolution into the glare of public debate north and south of the border. Ideas of nationhood, the quality of our democracy and the sustainability of the UK economy were conversations overhead in pubs and on street corners: do we need ‘English votes for English laws’? What are the merits of an English Parliament? And is the Barnett formula fair and just?
Lord Michael Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister, raised some of these questions in his opening keynote yesterday. These are the big issues that frame the choices now facing our political leaders as to whether and how they devolve power beyond the constituent nations of the UK. We need to empower our city-regions, or ‘metros’, to respond to the economic opportunities and challenges of their local areas, investing in relevant skills, infrastructure and connectivity for the long term.
Integrating economic and social policy is the key to transforming our northern cities, said Sir Richard Leese, Chair of the LGA City Regions board and leader of Manchester City Council. Welfare dependency, chronic health conditions and long term unemployment can only be alleviated by tailored local programmes, not centrally determined policy making in Whitehall. The same principle applies to the rest of England, as well as the Devolved Administrations where devolution doesn’t stop at Holyrood or Cardiff Bay.
As the City Growth Commission’s final recommendations make clear, the sustainability of the UK’s economy and public finances will increasingly depend on prosperity outside London and the South East. This is not to say that growth of the capital should be taken for granted or artificially constrained. Quite the contrary; we need our major metros such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle to do for their hinterlands what London does for the wider South East – creating jobs and driving investment and growth.
Creating an effective, efficient ‘system of cities’ to drive social and economic growth will take time, and some cities will want to move further and faster than others in taking on a different packages of powers. All will need to raise their capacity for policy making, risk management and governance. And even then, as Jim O’Neill, chair of the City Growth Commission, reminded us: devolution will only be a necessary, not sufficient condition for growth. We need to leverage the strength of our universities, ensure businesses can recruit the best talent and build efficient transport links across the country and into established and emerging markets. Only then will we start to boost the UK’s trend rate of national economic growth and maintain our standing in the increasingly competitive global economy.
This article was originally posted by thinkcities (@thinkcitiesuk)