The UK Cities Policy Agenda in 2018

These are my predictions of what will be big policy issues for UK cities agenda in 2018. Future posts will look at the likely big issues for infrastructure and technology, and regeneration and housing.

I am a bit late with this post, as we are already three weeks into 2018. In my defence I started a new job at the beginning of the month. I have left Leeds City Council where I had a fantastic five and a half years as Chief Officer Economy and Regeneration. During that time the city experienced one of the fastest rates of private secctor jobs growth of any UK city, led the agenda on inclusive growth, and set out ambitious plans for reshaping its city centre to drive productive growth through the plans for Leeds Station and HS2, Leeds Innovation District, and South Bank Leeds.

I am now back at Arup, in an exciting role leading the firm’s UK Cities Advisory business. I am already getting involved in great projects advising cities, city regions and Government on place based strategies for economic growth and inclusive growth, on how to maximise the benefits of major infrastructure projects, and advising private sector clients on how best to position their projects within the changing cities and city region agenda. This is already giving me a perspective of issues beyond Leeds.

Brexit will continue to dominate Whitehall and Westminster, meaning increasingly cities will need to forge their own agendas for growth, and to understand the potential impacts on their economies, in areas such as trade, investment, skills, and the reduced value of the pound, and to identify the actions they will take to mitigate the risks and exploit new opportunities. Some cities set out action plans for Brexit, such as the Leeds five point plan. I believe all cities / city regions need Brexit strategies.

The national Industrial Strategy has been criticised for not being sufficiently place based. Local Industrial Strategies will be important in setting out how national and local policies and interventions will come together to drive productivity growth in places.

The concept of inclusive growth continues to take hold, but many of the frameworks and toolkits produced lack a focus on practical actions cities can take, and underplay the role of leadership in creating a framework for business, education providers, the health sector and local government to do things differently. I led the production of the Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy, which I believe sets out a strong framework for change, and other cities such as Bristol are producing inclusive growth strategies.

Education and skills are critical to increasing productivity and social mobility. Expect to see cities and Mayors continuing to make the case for greater influence over or develoution of the education and skills system. In particular I predict a greater focus on supporting the progression and resilience of existing workforce and tackling low pay, to help people move to better jobs, and to help them adapt to economi and technological change.  It is also clear that there will be a stronger focus on schools, and in particular on raising school performance and educational attainment in places, although as Eleni Magrini has argued more needs to be done here.

I predict we will see an increasing focus on what can be done support growth of mid-sized cities and towns. These are significant in scale, but are not “core cities” or not part of a “city region”. Some of these are highly successful, some are seeking new roles in the context of economic restucturing. What is clear is that an agenda that is solely focused on clustering in large cities an their centres is not compatible with the concept of inclusive growth, and is not likely to be polically acceptable.  

It is likely that the UK’s cities agenda will continue to be seen by many through the lens of devolution, particularly as the directly elected metro mayors continue to get into their stride. The relationship between the Mayors and indivudual local authority leaders is evolving. There are already calls for greater devolution of power to these Mayors, as well as for devolution settlements to be agreed elsewhere, not least in Yorkshire. I also predict a wider debate around the case for greater devolution, including stronger fiscal powers, to councils, particularly in large cities.

More to follow on these topics in the weeks and months ahead.

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About citypolicy

Interested in what makes cities and regions dynamic, competitive and sustainable. I blog in a personal capacity. I work for Arup as Director, Cities Advisory. I was previously with Leeds City Council as Chief Economic Development Officer.
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