In a report launched today by the City Growth Commission, leading economist Jim O’Neill, famous for coining the term ‘BRIC’ economies, has given a vote of confidence to fifteen ‘metro’ areas of the UK as being on the right track to take on more devolved financial powers.
Following September’s Scottish referendum, the issue of whether to devolve powers to areas of the UK has been raised in the public’s awareness. The UK Core Cities are hoping to capitalise on this momentum, and galvanise public support for the agenda.
As well as expressing support for the movement towards devolving more powers to these fifteen ‘metro’ areas, O’Neill specifies that those with a Combined Authority are in the best position to move towards this devolution. Sheffield is part of just such an authority in the ‘Sheffield City Region’ with another eight local authorities.
Councillor Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and Development, said: “We are not talking about devolution for devolution’s sake here. It’s about things that matter to people – more jobs, better transport and skills, and a more prosperous country for everyone.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the findings of this report today, and it’s great to get a vote of confidence from Jim O’Neill that we’re moving in the right direction to take on more devolved powers.
“It makes no sense to have a bureaucrat in Whitehall, with little or no knowledge of an area, making decisions about how money is spent there. The UK is understood to have the most centralised government system in Europe apart from Albania. We know that if you look globally at big cities, they generally perform better than capitals economically. The reverse is true in Britain because we are subject to policies designed for London, which do not work outside the capital.
“Every area in the UK is unique, with its own particular economic profile, and we want to see cities enabled to make the most of their local assets, for the benefit of local people. For example Sheffield, which is the only UK major city to include part of a national park, has just been named the ‘Outdoor capital’ of the UK. We are striving to make the most of this, but we are seriously constrained by in what we can achieve because of the lack of power to tailor economic policy and funding to our local needs.
“We have proved that we know what works for people in Sheffield. As a result of the City Deal money we received in 2012 we are in the process of creating six thousand new apprenticeships in the City Region. We can do this because we put businesses in the driving seat, and enable them to develop the skills in the city that we need. Sheffield has a bright future in Advanced Manufacturing for example, and we know that by investing in engineering skills we can support this and help to rebalance the economy.
“It is also important to recognise the critical role that Sheffield will play in the new ‘Northern Powerhouse Economy’ with Manchester and Leeds. With the right investment, fast connectivity and the devolution of powers, we can unlock this potential.
“There is no reason for us to accept the second class economic performance from our big cities that results from the overly centralised system currently in place. With greater powers and control over the funding generated in our cities, we can channel money where it needs to be, and get our local economy booming.”
This report builds on a series of previous reports – the Core Cities Prospectus for Growth, the IPPR North’s Decentralisation Decade, and a huge body of work from organisations like the Centre for Cities – that all make the case for devolution of powers and funding to UK cities to boost jobs and growth, and close the north-south divide.