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