With confirmation that 2013 will see a further 20 City Deals, it is a good time to reflect on what has been learned so far. There are currently eight City Deals with the cities belonging to the Core Cities Group. In preparation Wave 2 Deals announcement, Centre for Cities asked each of the Wave 1 cities about the successes from and the challenges of negotiating their own Deals. We have reflected on their views in a short report - City Deals: Insights from the Core Cities.
Perhaps the most significant achievement of City Deals to date is to have opened up a new dialogue between cities and government. Nick Clegg’s acknowledgement that government has become too centralised, and that local economic growth requires local solutions, has set a new agenda. The Government has issued a challenge to cities, asking “How would you do it better than us?” A fast-paced process has pressed cities into action, requiring them to clarify their economic strengths and weaknesses, identify priorities and develop credible policy requests for central government. Ministers have judged the results, with an unusual level of direct contact between the Cabinet and local authorities. This has created some genuinely ground-breaking proposals of which the Manchester Earn Back scheme, returning £30 million per annum of central taxation to the city, is the poster child.
A great deal of ground has been covered in a short space of time, but there is still much more to be done. Cities need to up their game with more consistently ambitious policy asks that prove too good for the Government to refuse. There should be more collaboration between cities and the Government to devise joint solutions to common problems. The process of considering place as a matter of course when devising central government policy, and lining up Whitehall departments behind a collective agenda to empower places, has only just begun. And the Government needs to connect the City Deals agenda, including Core Package policies, with its response to the Heseltine review to avoid policy confusion.
However, some essential lessons are already clear for the Wave 2 cities. Above all they need to know their local economies better than ministers and civil servants, and have the evidence to back up their alternative growth proposals. If they can do this, they should stick to their guns and back the policies that can really make a difference to their place. And there is no reward without risk, so it is clear that Wave 2 cities will need to back up their ideas with political commitment. City Deals have great potential, and we will know by the end of 2013 whether they can fulfil it.