‘Release the handbrake’ on investment to unleash the enormous potential in UK cities, says new report - RSA

‘Release the handbrake’ on investment to unleash the enormous potential in UK cities, says new report

Press release

  • Democracy and governance
  • Economy

Sheffield (UK), 28 September 2023 - Unleashing the potential of the UK’s cities is critical to boost growth, repair their social fabric and meet our net zero targets according to a new report published today.

The report, produced in partnership between the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (RSA) and Core Cities UK, calls on the government to move away from the current trend of short-termism, witnessed in recent weeks in debates on HS2, net zero and the future of local government.

It states that although cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, and Glasgow have undergone a locally-led transformation over the last 20 years, there is still much to do to ensure they reach their full potential. This will not only benefit the people of those cities but their surrounding regions and the whole of the UK.

Bringing the UK’s core cities up to their European peers has the potential to add £100bn (around 5 per cent) to GDP each year and if social outcomes could mirror those in London, then this would lift 250,000 people out of unemployment, 1.2 million out of poverty and increase healthy life expectancy by up to eight years.

The UK Urban Futures Commission, co-chaired by RSA Chief Executive Andy Haldane and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, says that empowered local leaders, working with the private sector and in a new partnership of equals with government, can raise the £1trn needed to realise their potential.

By releasing the handbrake on investment and through a new suite of powers then the positive steps being taken by city leaders and private sector partners could be turbo-charged.

Among the report’s recommendations for national and city leaders are:

  • National government should adjust its fiscal rules, to focus on maximising long-term net wealth rather than lowering debt over the near term, removing the unnecessary cap on productive investment in our cities and connectivity between them.
  • National leaders should then fully empower city leaders, giving them statutory responsibility for raising prosperity and the tools to deliver this with an end to the familiar competitive bid culture and getting serious about their ability to raise and keep a greater proportion of taxes at a local level
  • Cities should draw up long-term local prosperity plans to enhance the economic, social and environmental health, agreed by a broad range of stakeholders, which should sit alongside a return of a national industrial strategy that has cities at its heart.
  • Cities should put in place new architecture for the delivery of these plans, such as a Cities Investment Hub to provide expert advice on investment projects and Urban Wealth Funds for professionally managing the assets of a city.
  • New sources of private capital should be mobilised, making greater use of public investment funds focused on supporting cities’ objectives, and by developing a Cities Investment Compact in which five per cent of the asset of financial institutions are committed to local investments.

Andy Haldane said: “Half the UK population lives in a city, 62 per cent of all new businesses registered in the UK start in cities and the eleven core cities generate 18 per cent of UK output. Yet there is so much more our cities could deliver for the economy, society and the environment. This report provides a set of practical steps for doing so, to be taken by empowered and enabled local leaders supported by national governments. By showing the way, we hope this report helps summon the collective will of leaders to take the necessary steps to uncork the potential in our great cities.”

Mayor Marvin Rees said: “At the heart of this report is the belief in the potential of cities and the people who live in them. Our report overturns the tired narrative that strong cities somehow damage the economic prospects of surrounding areas. The way forward will come from dismantling the out-of-date Whitehall and Westminster bidding culture and truly allows cities to stand on their own two feet economically.”

The UK Urban Futures Commissioners are:

  • Lord Karan Bilimoria, Founder Cobra Beer
  • Jane Davidson, Author of #futuregen: Lessons from a Small Country
  • David Hutchinson, Senior Advisor, Social Finance
  • Bruce Katz, former adviser to President Obama
  • Professor Michael Keith, Director, PEAK Urban
  • Polly Mackenzie, the founder of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
  • Anna Valero, Distinguished Policy Fellow, LSE

Core Cities UK brings together the city councils of eleven major cities across the UK:

Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

UK Urban Futures Commission

Unlocking the potential of UK cities, to drive economic, social and environmental improvements for people and for the country.

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