As the government’s Brexit bandwidth continues to dominate domestic policy proceedings, efforts to develop solutions to the UK’s pressing productivity and social mobility crises have been put on the back burner. As crises only become worse when neglected, this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.
That is why the 24 mid-sized cities of the Key Cities Group have come together to launch a new report, Key Cities: Cities in Action. The report sets out the additional powers, resources and freedoms mid-sized cities need as part of a new post-Brexit settlement to deliver stronger economic growth, better social mobility and improved well-being at local and national levels.
This builds on the government’s pledge made in its Industrial Strategy to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to policy-making. With enhanced policy and fiscal levers at their disposal, mid-sized city leaders will be better equipped to encourage the development of their distinctive strengths and reduce the significant regional disparities in productivity growth that currently blight economic and social aspirations in the UK.
National and devolved governments working more closely with mid-sized cities such as Blackpool, Bournemouth, Gloucester and Southend-on-Sea will bring substantial rewards to UK plc. With a collective yearly GVA of £130.5billion, the 24 mid-sized Key Cities make around the same contribution to the UK economy as Scotland. With support to increase their combined productivity levels to the England average, Key Cities will contribute an additional £258billion to the UK economy by 2029.
Mid-sized cities are already working hard with cross-sector partners to deliver innovative projects that grow their local economies and improve the life chances of their residents. Yet there is only so much city leaders can do with the policy tools they currently possess. Mid-sized cities have significant growth potential, but are also home to some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. In most Key Cities, pay is below the UK average, housing affordability is in decline and the proportion of children and young people with a mental health disorder is larger than the England average. Delivering growth, while ensuring that policy helps all residents, businesses and places to benefit from growth, is the overarching mission of mid-sized cities.
For this reason, it is crucial that UK and devolved governments work more closely with mid-sized cities. They are the best allies for national governments seeking to design policy that meets the needs of so-called ‘left behind’ people and places. The compact size and scale of mid-sized cities enable city leaders to convene local stakeholders quickly to respond to new opportunities as they emerge. With mid-sized cities located in all parts of the UK, they are the ideal partners to serve as testbeds and pilot areas, helping national government to evaluate the impact of new policies and determine whether they can be successfully rolled out more widely across the country.
Mid-sized cities stand ready, willing and able to lead the UK’s drive for economic growth and social prosperity after Brexit. If the UK and devolved governments work in closer partnership with their mid-sized cities, Key Cities and others will fulfil their enormous potential, unlocking a bright future for their residents and businesses and the whole national economy.
Cllr Peter Box CBE, Chair of the Key Cities Group and Leader of Wakefield Council