My predictions on what will be the big issues and trends for UK cities and regions in 2014. I will blog in more detail on these, and other, issues through the year. See also part 1 https://citypolicy.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/14-to-watch-in-2014-part-1-of-3/
6. Tackling poverty
The issue of poverty will be prominent in 2014. Whilst the economic recovery is gathering pace, there remain persistent and deep-routed concentrations of deprivation in parts of our major towns and cities. The LEPs have been tasked to pursue a narrow agenda of economic growth. We no longer have national area-based regeneration initiatives. So what should be the policy response?
The challenge for cities and city regions is to develop and articulate a clearer and more sophisticated concept of “good growth” that goes beyond trickle-down economics. The attention of policy makers should not just be on more jobs, it should also be on better jobs. Low pay and the quality of jobs, including some use of zero hours contracts, are significant problems. For example in Leeds, the latest data shows a widening earnings gap between part-time and full-time workers, and between the low paid and those on middle incomes.
In 2014 Leeds City Council and Leeds City Region will be partnering with Joseph Rowntree Foundation to look in more detail at the issues of Growth and Poverty (see: http://www.jrf.org.uk/work/workarea/cities-growth-poverty).
7. A return to evidence-based urban policy
In 2014 we will see a return of evidence based urban policy. This comes after a period in which evidence and strategy have been dirty words. Two years ago I remember being told that “we don’t need more evidence and strategies, we need to do something!”. When I recounted this to a more thoughtful person the response was “do what exactly?” Quite.
The big development in 2014 will come as the national What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (http://whatworksgrowth.org/) gets into its stride. A formidable team has been formed, led by Prof Henry Overman of the LSE, supported by my former colleagues at Arup, and the Centre for Cities, all of whom will I am sure deliver their assessments robustly and independently.
This is all very welcome in my opinion. My plea is for a recognition that those of us working at the coalface need operate within the context of the art of the possible and Realpolitik.
- 8. Universities as drivers of growth
The Witty Review of universities and growth, published in October 2013, will influence economic development policy in 2014 and beyond (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/give-universities-bigger-role-in-growing-economy-witty). It is in cities and city regions where there is the greatest potential for the economically valuable “knowledge spillovers” between the university, private and public sectors.
But many firms do not work closely with universities, and too many university departments engage with business mainly on their own terms. There is in my opinion too much focus on game-changing technologies, and not enough incremental product and process innovation along the lines of the German Fraunhofer model (http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/about-fraunhofer.html). In short, we are quite good at research and pure innovation, but not good enough at commercialising it. Addressing this problem will be a priority for cities, LEPs, and Government.
9. Growth Zones
I predict that 2014 will see bolder approaches to development and regeneration to establish new business districts and to strengthen existing ones.
The Enterprise Zones have been a much-maligned initiative. The depressed commercial development market has slowed progress. The incentives to businesses to invest in the zones are fairly modest. The challenge will be for cities and LEPs to leverage the main fiscal incentive: the 100% local retention of business rates growth over a 25-year period. This could help underwrite investment in enabling infrastructure, and speculative development. There is a need for a Government funding mix that includes grants, not just loans. Expect to see more proactive and interventionist approaches in 2014.
We are likely to see a greater focus on city centres as locations for business and jobs growth. There have been many reports, and even television programmes, on the state of town and city centres. One of the more intelligent contributions was the Centre for Cities “Beyond the High Street” report of September 2013. http://www.centreforcities.org/research/2013/09/10/beyond-the-high-street/ This argued that city centres have a far wider role than just retail. They support jobs in a wide range of sectors, and in cities such as Leeds have been the location for the majority of private sector jobs growth in the last decade.
City centre Innovation Districts have been tipped for the next big thing by Bruce Katz. In an excellent recent article, “Goodbye Silicon Valley, Hello Silicon Cities”, Katz argues that whilst previously innovative tech firms located on out-of-town business parks, today they are increasingly clustering at in-town locations (http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131210130702-178891608-big-idea-2014-goodbye-silicon-valley-hello-silicon-cities). US cities are leading the way, for example Boston (http://www.innovationdistrict.org/). The recently announced Government funding for University Enterprise Zones could provide a boost in the UK https://www.gov.uk/government/news/15-million-boost-for-local-business-growth-at-universities.