Britain’s mayoral cities are a step ahead in preparing for the rise of the robots

Hello, human friend. Image: Getty.

In this year’s Cities Outlook report, we looked at how cities’ labour markets will be affected by the rise of automation and other trends. We found that not only are more northern cities at greater risk of job losses as a result of future changes to the world of work: the jobs growth they will see in future will tend to be lower-skilled than in southern cities.

This is also true for mayoral authorities. In terms of jobs at risk of disappearing, there is a slight geographical divide. Mayoral authorities in the North and Midlands have a higher share of jobs at risk of displacement than the national average (which is 21.4 per cent per cent), with over 23 per cent of jobs at risk in both the West Midlands and Tees Valley for example. By contrast, the West of England combined authority and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough are relatively more insulated from job losses, with 19 and 20.2 per cent of jobs at risk respectively.

Similarly, there are differences in types of jobs identified as likely to grow in the various mayoral authorities in the future. On the one hand, the two southern combined authorities are better placed to see growth in high-skill private sector occupations. In the West of England, approximately 30 per cent of existing jobs which are likely to grow in the future fall into this category, such as jobs in arts and media. That share is higher than one in three jobs in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, mainly driven by natural and social science professionals and engineering occupations.

By contrast, in the Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley, less than one in five of today’s jobs expected to grow is in high-skill private sector occupations – with most of the potential growth in publicly-funded occupations and lower skill private sector ones.

While these trends are similar to broader trends among cities across the country, what is different is that mayoral authorities – thanks to their devolution deals and metro mayors – are better placed to address these issues in a more tailored way that reflects their authority’s needs. In particular, mayoral authorities have got three extra tools in their pockets to deal with these challenges.

Firstly, metro mayors have greater control over a number of policy areas that can help them make their economy more attractive – for example by improving transport and addressing housing needs. The mayors can use these powers and the new Local Industrial Strategies to understand and address the main challenges their places face.

Secondly, mayoral authorities are also at an advantage compared to other areas in terms of their capacity to support people to respond to change. The devolution of the Adult Education Budget, although delayed to 2019, will give metro mayors more control over adult learning. It could also help address some of the problems caused by the ongoing changes in the world of work, for example by supporting people already in the workforce to adjust to an evolving labour market.

Thirdly, mayoral authorities are better placed to secure further devolved powers and responsibilities. The Government has clearly shown a preference towards places with mayors in decisions about funding and policy, for example by directly allocating a part of the Transforming Cities Fund to the areas (while other non-mayoral cities will have to compete to access the fund). Furthermore, having a metro mayor in place will not only encourage the government to devolve more powers (and has already); it also means that mayoral authorities have a stronger voice representing them than other cities.

It’s clear that increased automation and globalisation will pose big challenges to all cities in the coming decades, and action will be needed to support people in urban areas to adapt and thrive in the face of change. However, it is also clear that mayoral authorities are already one step ahead in this process, and have greater tools – in terms of powers, resources and leadership – to address these changes.

It is now up to other big cities such as Leeds to decide whether they want to follow suit, or instead face these challenges with less of the powers and resources they need to make a difference.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.