Everyone wants to build houses, and five other things we learned from the first UK City Leaders’ Survey

Liverpool, which is a city. Image: Getty.

Something unusual happened in British politics over the last few weeks: someone bothered to ask city leaders what they think.

The inaugural UK City Leaders’ Survey, conducted by the Centre for Cities and those cheeky, publicity hungry tykes at Arup, invited views from the leadership of 63 cities, whether metro mayors, mayors or council leaders. Inspired by the Menino Survey of Mayors conducted by researchers at Boston University, the survey symbolises the growing influence of urban leaders in this ridiculously over-centralised country of ours. We at CityMetric are quite in favour of this, for the understandable reason that we, too, need to eat.

The results, the survey authors stress, are not statistically representative: the response rate was about a quarter, and the findings are indicative rather than scientific. But they do give some indication of what city leaders are worrying about at the moment.

So, what did we learn – and are there any pretty charts to illustrate it?

1) Building housing is everything

Housing and regeneration was identified, unprompted, as the biggest overall economic priority for the majority of leaders surveyed,” the report says.

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And within the housing sector, “supply was the overwhelming priority”.

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That’s nine out of ten respondents prioritising adding to their housing supply. Nearly half wanted to build more council homes.

So: the prime minister’s recent promise that she’d lift the borrowing cap to enable councils to build homes seems likely to be embraced with open arms.

2) Improving skills is everything else

Leaders highlighted inclusive growth as another of their broader priorities,” the report says. “When asked to provide more detail in this area, they tended to specify adult learning.

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Again, that’s quite the lead adult education has over other growth priorities, and the runner up is under 18 education. Both are running way ahead of other priorities including transport and public realm.

Adult education is an area that’s long been neglected by national government: governments of all parties have been far more concerned with schools and universities (which ministers and columnists vaguely understand) than further education or technical colleges (which they don’t). So it’s interesting to note that local leaders are worrying about this gap.

That said...

3) But care is, annoyingly, everything too

...it’s not clear they have the money to do anything about any of this.

Social care was identified by almost every leader as being the public service under the most pressure. This was also the policy area where most leaders would wish to see further funding allocated through the upcoming Spending Review.

This is unsurprising, of course, but here’s the kicker:

In turn, many were prepared to sacrifice funding in other areas, such as adult skills, to achieve this.

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It’s very easy to say that, were money available, you’d to increase spending on adult education. But the money isn’t available – and preventing adult social care services from falling over is a far more pressing problem.

You can see that from quite how universal concern about social care now is:

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That’s damn near unanimity. This is a problem.

4) Views on transport vary

Leaders tended to identify roads within their area and supporting a shift from cars to other modes of transport (such as public transport) as the two key areas.

In other words, everyone either wants to make things easier for cars or for things that aren’t cars.

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Glad we cleared that up.

5) City leaders are fretting about climate change

Of the leaders surveyed, 79 per cent agreed to either spending money or sacrificing revenues for the sake of mitigating climate change. Only one leader strongly disagreed with this.

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These findings are strikingly similar to those the Menino Survey found when it asked surveyed US mayors:

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I’m reminded of the late Ben Barber’s comment about why he believed mayors would save the world. National governments can mess around with ideas like sovereignty. Cities actually have to make sure stuff works.

6) On funding, they value certainty over flexibility

Would city leaders like to be able to move money around, based on local need? Or would they rather have longer budgets to give them certainty about how much they’ll have?

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That said, the difference is pretty narrow. I suspect a lot of city leaders would ideally have both.

The really interesting thing about work like this, of course, is how its findings change over time. So here’s to the 2019 UK City Leaders’ Survey. Nice to have something to get excited about each December isn’t it?


You can read the whole survey here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

 
 
 
 

Joe Anderson: Why I resigned from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership

Liverpool Lime Street station, 2008. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of Liverpool has a few choice words for Chris Grayling.

I resigned from the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership this week. I just didn’t see the point of continuing when it is now crystal clear the government isn’t committed to delivering the step-change in rail investment in the North that we so desperately need. Without it, the Northern Powerhouse will remain a pipedream.

Local government leaders like me have been left standing at the altar for the past three years. The research is done. The case has been made. Time and again we’ve been told to be patient – the money is coming.

Well, we’ve waited long enough.

The only thing left is for the transport secretary to come up with the cash. I’m not holding my breath, so I’m getting on with my day job.

There’s a broader point here. Rail policy has been like a roller-coaster in recent years. It soars and loops, twisting and turning, without a clear, committed trajectory. There is no consistency – or fairness. When London makes the case for Crossrail, it’s green-lit. When we make the same case for HS3 – linking the key Northern cities – we are left in Whitehall limbo.

Just look at the last week. First we had the protracted resignation of Sir Terry Morgan as Chairman of HS2 Ltd. Just when we need to see firm leadership and focus we have instead been offered confusion and division. His successor, Allan Cooke, said that HS2 Ltd is “working to deliver” services from London to Birmingham – the first phase of the line – from 2026, “in line with the targeted delivery date”. (“In line?”)

Just when HS2 finally looked like a done deal, we have another change at the top and promises about delivery are sounding vaguer. Rumours of delays and cost over-runs abound.

Some would like to see the case for HS2 lose out to HS3, the cross-Pennine east-west line. This is a bit like asking which part of a train is more important: its engine, or its wheels. We need both HS2 and HS3. We are currently left trying to build the fourth industrial revolution on infrastructure from the first.

If we are ever to equip our country with the ability to meet rising customer and freight demand, improve connectivity between our major conurbations and deliver the vision of the Northern Powerhouse, then we need the key infrastructure in place to do that.


There are no shortcuts. Ministers clearly believe there are. The second piece of disappointing news is that officials at the Department for Transport have already confirmed to the freight industry that any HS3 line will not be electrified, the Yorkshire Post reports.

This is a classic false economy. The renaissance of the Liverpool Dockside – now called Superport – is undergoing a £1bn investment, enabling it to service 95 per cent  of the world’s largest container ships, opening up faster supply chain transit for at least 50 per cent  of the existing UK container market. Why squander this immense opportunity with a cut-price rail system?

Without the proper infrastructure, the North of England will never fulfil its potential, leaving our economy lop-sided and under-utilised for another generation. This is not provincial jealousy. Building a rail network that’s fit for purpose for both passenger and freight will remove millions of car journeys from the road and make our national economy more productive. It will also be cleaner, cheaper and more reliable. Our European neighbours have long understood the catalytic effect of proper connectivity between cities.

Similarly, linking together towns and key cities across the North of England is a massive prize that will boost growth, create jobs and provide a counterweight to Greater London, easing pressures on the capital and building resilience into our national economy.

To realise this vision, we need the finance and political commitment. Confirmation that the government is pushing ahead with HS3 – as well as HS2 – is now sorely needed.

With Brexit looming and all the uncertainly it brings in its wake, it is even more pressing to have clarity around long-term investment decisions about our critical infrastructure. Given the investment, the North will seize the chance.

But until ministers are serious, I have a city to run.

Joe Anderson is the elected Labour mayor of Liverpool.