COMMENT | Cities need growth and stimulus projects

Ben Lucas metroGet your shovels ready councils, Theresa May needs ideas. This might not be the most common reaction to Brexit – most being on a scale between dumbfounded shock and unexpected elation – but it’s an important one nonetheless, writes Ben Lucas of Metro Dynamics.

For as the new government’s priorities emerge after Brexit, so does a case for further devolution. After all, the referendum above all else highlighted Britain’s inequality. Vast swathes of the electorate across the North and the Midlands showed dissatisfaction with the status quo, whilst the cries of ‘take back control’ could be applied to Westminster as much as Brussels.

Meanwhile, further austerity is on hold and the need for stimulus to address the economic shock of Brexit is strong. Theresa May has called for an economy that “works for everyone”.

Cities need to show that they are central to economic and industrial reform, and to generating more inclusive growth.

This is a point Theresa May seems to get. She’s spoken about bond financing for major infrastructure projects, and said that she wants a “plan to help every single one of them (cities)”.  Words that have been reflected in her appointment of Greg Clark, the champion of city deals, as head of a new department of economic reform, and Sajid Javid as head of Department for Communities & Local Government.

To capitalize on this, cities need to seek to work with this new government straight away to:

  1. Restate the case that our main city regions are best placed to drive balanced growth across the UK, generating agglomeration benefits, and improving skill levels. Economic benefits need to spillover into non-metropolitan areas.
  2. Show that cities have the big ideas about projects that can generate jobs and inclusive growth and help the most economically and socially disadvantaged.
  3. Demonstrate that the city region structures that have been developed over the past few years – LEPs, Combined Authorities and Metro Mayors – have the capability and capacity to deliver both their existing growth strategies and major new projects.
  4. Work together to determine what good Brexit looks like for cities and work with the government to achieve this.

However to paraphrase Bill Clinton: It’s the economy, stupid. The government will want to generate growth fast, and has already indicated a willingness to borrow to invest. Councils should capitalize on this, using local private sector links to demonstrate their capacity for managing investment, particularly in housing and regeneration.

Our top tips are:

  • Shovel ready projects and schemes that can start now and will rapidly generate investment opportunities for private sector, along with jobs for local people. These should include housing schemes that can be quickly delivered.
  • More imaginative propositions for local bond financing for major projects, that are currently stuck on the grid because they can’t be financed.
  • Practical ideas about how capital and infrastructure projects can be linked with local employment and training opportunities, for example construction skills colleges to develop a local workforce, to be supported by adapting procurement policies.
  • Scalable ideas for investment in social infrastructure, with big initiatives on early years education, family support, and wider early intervention to reduce the health and economic inequalities highlighted by Theresa May.

Carpe Diem everyone, and do it fast.

  • Ben Lucas is a founding director of Metro Dynamics, the consultancy established by Mike Emmerich, former head of New Economy Manchester, and Sarah Whitney, ex-CBRE and North West Evergreen Fund advisor. Metro Dynamics provides strategic advice to those leading, growing or investing in cities and metropolitan areas.

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They all start with their big ideas and five years down the line there are still very little signs of a narrowing of the gap between London and the rest, because they simply do not put enough money into the schemes outside the capital. The North and the Midlands, needs hundreds of billions of pounds worth of investment, not a billion here and a billion there. Osborne boasted about his Northen powerhouse, but then pumped 85 percent of capital expenditure into London and the South East. These statements are just smokescreens for half a century of neglect. The Labour Party are the worst culprits for ignoring the North and Midlands. Blair and Brown cancelled so much promised investment in the North West. They need to start with transport and that means proper fast trains linking the North and Midlands cities. Not a pathetic hundred million pounds for second hand rolling stock, but superfast trains linking Liverpool and Leeds, through the North’s most successful town Warrington, via Manchester airport, Central Manchester to Leeds. These trains need to be linked via Manchester to Birmingham and Sheffield from Leeds. We also need a means of travelling around these cities to the outlying areas when we get to them, as they have in Germany. Leeds and Birmingham have appalling local transport and Manchester and Liverpool mediocre. In 2016 cities the size of these should have a proper integrated transport system. You should be able to get a tram or Metro from Bolton to Central Manchester stations, get your train to Leeds and then get to outlying areas of Leeds on a similar tram or Metro.

By Elephant

Increase the pace of devolution, strip all small businesses under 4 people of regulation that is costly and time consuming, remove tax and increase grants for companies that invest in capital and R D!
Also we need to push for more private sector, municple pension schemes to combine and invest in local infrusttucture

By Stuart wood

More devolution, and the ability to combine small municple pension pots into large scale investment grade pots that can be used for local infrastructure Projects

By Stuart wood

I want ELEPHANT for GM Metro Mayor please!!!

By Schwyz

Elephant for anything!! He will be King.

By Zonk

They couldn’t afford me Lol

By Elephant

Yeah Elephant for King of the world!! He knows everything about everything and tells everyone his wisdom what he knows all the time!! Is there nothing he can not do!?! Absolute best commenter on the website bar none! So glad he comments on everything!

By Giraffe

How do u know I’m a he?

By Elephant

A hint of sarcasm there Giraffe.Got a sore throat today? I’m harmless really

By Elephant

I am the real Elephant – I don’t know who the impostor in the first comment is but he seems to be stalking me.

I found the article very positive and agreed with most of the points listed.

By Elephant

I think we’re going to need registered usernames…

By Elephant

The (real) Elephant came out with the single best comment ever on this website……

By Zonk

My psychic eye is telling me that Giraffe and Impostor Elephant are one and the same endangered species.

By Elephant

Surely PNW, must know who posted these comments, this has happened once or twice before.

By Man on bicycle

Thanks, Zonk.

By Elephant

You’re right Elephant but look at what’s emerging from Transport for the North. Three mega trans Pennine road schemes, a road tunnel under the Peak District, and a rail tunnel from Leeds to Manchester. Good for consultants and the civil engineering industry, but not really top of my list. It’s much easier to line up a shovel ready road scheme, so long as there are no objectors.

By Chet

Chet. I have not heard of a road tunnel between Manchester and Leeds.

By Anonymous

The problem Chet, is that Westminster try to replicate South East/London needs up here. It does not work. We do not have a Mother city to which everyone commutes up here. The problems for Northern cities’ transport needs are at a local level. People want fast, cheap ways, of getting around the cities and most people are not interested in getting quickly between Liverpool and Leeds, as travelling between those places for most people is a rarity. If you asked people in Liverpool when they last went to Leeds, you would get a totally different response, to if you asked people in Reading, when they last went to London. People do not commute en masse up here, like they do around London. This is changing in Manchester because of the Metrolink, but it is still in it’s infancy. Travelling from North London to Croydon for instance, is seamless and relatively cheap. Travelling from Bury to Stockport,requires a choice of a tram costing a mint, then a train costing even more , or two long bus journeys on two different bus companies. In London you buy a ticket and you go where you want. We have to negotiate a two hour journey by bus, or an overpriced journey by tram and train.Sorting out this to me,is more important than a tunnel to Sheffield. As Manchester city council continue to turn the city centre into one big velodrome, it can only get worse, as they have made no effort to provide alternatives to the car. With Devolution we need to re-regulate all Manchester’s transport. This must be Andy Burnham’s priority.

By Elephant

I think you are entirely wrong Elephant. The problem that you have is Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester fighting over the same things. For either of those cities to attract a global corporation would be of huge benefit to one of them and a huge loss to the others. Google in London benefits the whole of London and the surrounding areas, the same cannot be said of the North, you only had to witness Manchester and Leeds fighting it out to try and get Goldman Sachs a few years ago. You need remove that before the major northern cities can move on and create an attractive location to attract top business, they can only do that by being stronger than a sum of their parts. Transport between the 3 is vital to that. I can speak by example, my line of work was focused in Leeds, my choice of where I preferred to live was Manchester, one had to give. That doesn’t happen East, West, North, South of London. A commute from a Manchester suburb to a job in Leeds city centre should be possible. That will also need local links to be improved, but the immediate requirement should be for travel between the cities an easy and quick affair.

By Loganberry

Loganberry your point is valid,but you speak of your own needs. Most people in Greater Manchester commute within Greater Manchester.Ideally we should have both.

By Elephant

I have a lot of free time

By Elephant

It would be great to hear more talk of less council involvement in building post-Brexit. By which I mean, some much needed deregulation. I fear though Brexit will be used to promote wild spending and state expansion, the consequences of which will of course ironically be blamed on Brexit.

By Ronan

Yes, I’m sure the private sector would be happy to finance hugely important, hugely expensive infrastructure projects with all the attendant risks and uncertainty that involves. Even Heathrow’s new runway needs public investment of the order of £10 – £18bn improving transport links.

The sooner we get on investing in our clapped-out transport infrastructure in the north the sooner our growth prospects will improve and we’ll start to close the productivity and output gap to the South and equivalent European cities.

By Rational

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