2012 has been quite a year for UK cities. The national economy has continued to struggle, emerging from a double dip recession only in the third quarter of this year, while cities across the country have been implementing significant budget cuts. All of this has been taking place against a backdrop of almost continual policy change since 2010, including reforms to the planning system and the introduction of a range of new individual funding pots and growth mechanisms.
Yet despite the on-going turbulence, the introduction of City Deals and the publication of the Heseltine Review on local growth mean that 2012 may actually be remembered as the year that the UK finally took serious steps to empower our cities to drive the economy forward during the coming years.
Centre for Cities in 2012: helping to shape a new deal for our urban areas
Over the course of the past twelve months, the Centre for Cities has been working hard both to support policymakers and practitioners through this period of change and to shape the next wave of devolution to major towns and cities across the country. We have worked directly with colleagues across the length and breadth of the country – from Sunderland, York and Manchester, to Oxford, Cambridge and Reading – to ensure our work is as relevant and practically useful as possible.
We began the year by identifying those cities that were out-performing the national economy and those that were most in need of additional support in our annual Cities Outlook report. This fifth edition of our flagship report has been the most successful and widely used to date. More than 28,000 copies have been downloaded during 2012 and I have enjoyed going to meetings with key decision makers in Whitehall and in town halls across the country where the Centre’s figures get quoted back at me. We’ve also had a very positive response to our Cities Outlook 1901 report, which charted the changing fortunes of our city economies over the past 100 years and extracted some lessons for policymakers of today.
The most innovative policy development for our cities in 2012 has been the introduction of individually tailored City Deals to urban areas across the UK, which offers the chance to transform how cities drive economic growth in their area. Throughout the year the Centre has played a key role in supporting Ministers and City leaders to craft both the principles that should underpin the City deals, and their content. The first wave of Deals, announced in the summer, were struck with England’s Core Cities, covering a breadth of policy areas, from investment to skills and enterprise support.
The Government has now invited a further 20 cities, including the next largest cities such as Southampton and Portsmouth, and England’s fastest growing cities such as Milton Keynes, to bid for a wave 2 City Deal, with decisions due early in 2013.
Alongside the City Deals process, the creation of new private sector jobs has been of major concern to Government and cities alike as the country emerged from double-dip recession post-summer. We have been helping cities understand the current make up of businesses in their area, and the critical role that small businesses play in city economies.
2012 has also been a momentous year for London. In May Boris Johnson was re-elected as London Mayor for a further four year term, while the Capital’s triumphant hosting of the Olympic Games during the summer is thought to have provided a small boost to GDP, and raised the profile of London globally. But as our analysis makes clear, the ultimate success of the Games will be determined by the ability of policymakers and communities to deliver a lasting Legacy for East London.
The Government has continued to explore other means of boosting local government finance and cities’ ability to invest in infrastructure and development priorities throughout 2012. As well as providing analysis on the passage of the Local Finance Bill and the Regional Growth Fund, the Centre has also led the debate on the need to localise key funding streams to boost investment, and how our mid-sized cities can boost investment in their urban centres.
And as ever, throughout 2012 the Centre has produced regular briefings to support policymakers on a range of other issues, from housing delivery and the changing role of local enterprise partnerships, and the prospects for more combined authorities emerging across the UK.
Cities in 2013: the year to deliver
Across the country, cities have a fantastic opportunity to seize the initiative in 2013. Once concluded, the City Deals process will leave our urban areas with significant new powers and responsibilities to drive growth in their area. But much work remains to ensure they can deliver – and it is also vital to remember that City Deals are not and cannot be the only way in which government supports city economies.
The prospects of a robust Core Package of measures that ensure cities can shape and deliver their spending and investment priorities as part of the City Deals offers a starting point for a further transformation of the central-urban relationship. Getting this right, and extending it to other places, should be a key focus for next year.
Government will need to work hard to ensure it delivers on its existing commitments in City Deals and that it starts to break down the silos that can cause so many inefficiencies and poor outcomes ta local level.
For their part, cities must be clear about their economic strategies, ready to take new powers on, and willing to take potentially difficult decisions over where their limited resources will be directed.
Centre for Cities’ research programme over the next two years will continue to support both Government and Cities in these endeavours. 2013 will also see the beginning of a mini-Spending Review for the period up to 2015, and the Centre will continue to make the case for investment in our cities’ economies throughout this process.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have contributed to the Centre’s research this year. The team and I look forward to continuing to work with you during the year ahead. We believe that, despite the on-going economic and financial challenges faced by national and local policymakers, significant progress has been made during 2012 towards ensuring our cities have the tools they need to boost growth and jobs in their area.2013 is the year to make sure we all deliver.