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07/11/2014

A manifesto for a stronger urban nation

Manchester

As we head towards the 2015 election, political change for the UK's cities has never seemed more possible, says Alexandra Jones

Alexandra JonesThis year has seen politicians across the spectrum affording more attention to cities policy than ever before. As we head into the 2015 general election knowing we need a sustained recovery, it has never been more important to make long-overdue changes to the ways that cities are empowered to drive growth.
 
London continues to grow as an international powerhouse, but cost-of-living pressures and strains on infrastructure are taking a toll, particularly on 
the lowest paid. In the North, although cities such 
as Manchester are reaping the rewards of good leadership and a solid strategic plan, many others lag behind, facing the challenges of high unemployment, poor skills and sluggish markets.
 
While some of these factors reflect long-term external influences, they also show the limitations of a Westminster-dominated approach to policy-making. Across the nation, cities need more funding, greater powers and improved flexibilities to target their local challenges. For all the supportive cities rhetoric of the political parties this year, there has been scant detail on how they intend to achieve their stated ambitions.
 
When announcements are made, too many focus on amounts of funding, which usually come with strings attached, rather than the most critical component to effect change – cities having greater flexibility over how and where money (capital and revenue) is spent.
 
Centre for Cities has been championing the economic development of cities for almost 10 years and we have not seen a more exciting period – one where big change seems genuinely possible. But the gap between rhetoric and reality remains great, and for this reason we have released a manifesto that sets out the practical ways to connect the two.

"Cities need more funding, greater powers and improved flexibilities"

At its heart it calls for the creation of a Cities and Prosperity Act within the first year of a new 
Parliament. This would be enabling legislation with a presumption in favour of devolution, giving cities the chance to manage transport, strategic planning, finance and skills. 
 
All they will need to do is ask for these powers, and have 
democratically accountable leadership in place at the level of the economy, which creates the scale and resources to coordinate and deliver local growth. This means cities can move as quickly or slowly as they wish, and that there is no need for additional legislation every time more innovations are desired.
 
Ensuring that transport, housing and skills policies respond to local needs is an important step to making the most of UK city economies.
 
Alexandra Jones is chief executive of independent urban research organisation Centre for Cities
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