Get 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:
- 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.
- Show that cities have the big ideas about projects that can generate jobs and inclusive growth and help the most economically and socially disadvantaged.
- 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.
- 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.