An open letter to the British government: Working with mid-sized cities will solve your problems

The Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield. Image: Poliphilo/Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Prime Minister,

UK productivity growth is struggling. Social inequalities and divisions are becoming more widely entrenched. And these pressing problems are largely being put to one side because government time is, by necessity, almost exclusively occupied with the UK’s impending exit from the European Union.

National government cannot solve all the UK’s challenges alone. That is why we, as 24 mid-sized cities in the Key Cities Group, have come together to publish our latest report, Key Cities: Cities in Action. We have the drive, energy and ambition to play our part in delivering stronger economic growth and social prosperity for all corners of the UK. Our Cities in Action report sets out the additional powers, freedoms and resources that we need to make this happen.

You committed in the Industrial Strategy to move away from a one-size-fits all approach. Instead, the Industrial Strategy aims to encourage distinctive regional strengths as a means of boosting regional and national growth. In terms of delivering this commitment, working more closely with our mid-sized Key Cities offers the country a quick win.  Our collective annual GVA is £130.5bn, almost equivalent to the annual GVA of Scotland. With support to raise all Key Cities’ productivity levels to the England average, we will contribute an additional £258bn to the UK economy by 2029. This is a significant opportunity that no national government can afford to ignore.


To bring communities who feel neglected and ‘left behind’ back into the fold, you will find no better ally than mid-sized cities. Key Cities are located the length and breadth of England and Wales and home to a combined population of 6.4 million. My Key Cities colleagues and I represent the authentic voice of urban Britain. We stand ready and willing to work with national government to develop policy that helps all people and places benefit from economic growth

For us to carry out this role effectively, we in the Key Cities have three asks of national and devolved governments to underpin our new working relationship:

First, work in partnership with mid-sized cities. The Key Cities Group is a cross-party alliance of mid-sized city leaders. We are used to working across parties, sectors and other arbitrary boundaries to deliver our shared ambitions for our cities. If national government works more closely with us as partners, our cities and country will reap the rewards.

Second, trust mid-sized cities. Our cities’ compact size and scale of mid-sized cities give us as city leaders an intimate knowledge of the needs of our communities and an ability to convene relevant partners quickly to make the most of new opportunities. We therefore call on government to trust the leadership of mid-sized cities by devolving powers and budgets in full rather than just seeking to secure short-term deals.

Third, listen to mid-sized cities. We have long and proud histories of innovation and delivery. Key Cities, located across the country, make ideal testbeds to evaluate the impact of new policies and assess whether they could be rolled out to other parts of the UK. In the coming year, we intend to launch a Cities in Action programme, putting ideas and options forward to government and others to demonstrate what empowered and activist cities can do for our own residents and businesses and the wider economy and country. 

With Brexit looming ever closer on the horizon, all cities have an important part to play in bringing about economic and social prosperity. Mid-sized cities such as Key Cities cannot unleash their full potential without the support of national government. With that support, we will be the cornerstone of a thriving United Kingdom.

            Yours,

                        Peter Box

Councillor Peter Box is the Labour leader of Wakefield City council and chair of the Key Cities Group.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.