Economic plan needed for fast-growing cities, says think-tank

8 Mar 16

The government should develop an economic strategy to support England’s fastest growing cities, including financial powers to boost housebuilding and maintain higher levels of productivity, according to a report today.

A review by the Centre for Cities think-tank found that some of the UK’s fastest-growing and strongest-performing cities share economic challenges that must be overcome to allow them to continue to contribute to national growth.

Cities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Swindon and Norwich are playing an increasingly important role in the national economy, according to the report. All five places have higher productivity levels than bigger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, as well as higher than average levels of employment and business start-ups, and are among the fastest growing places in terms of population.

However, the think-tank warns that these cities face a number of significant economic challenges which threaten to undermine these trends. These include a lack of new housing, increasing transport congestion and potential skills shortages.

If the cities were given additional powers in these areas – such as extra Housing Revenue Account borrowing freedoms and long-term infrastructure funding commitments already agreed in some devolution deals – their growth could continue, chief executive Alexandra Jones said.

“The government’s devolution agenda has understandably focused on boosting growth in some of the UK’s biggest city-economies, many of which are punching below their weight economically.

“However, for the government to realise its ambitions of building a more productive and higher-wage economy across the country, it’s crucial that it does not overlook the challenges facing the Fast Growth Cities group [which represents the five cities], which are among the most economically vibrant and innovative places in the UK. For these cities to continue to grow, it’s vital that they receive the kind of tailored policy support the government is putting in place for cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield.”

If these cities are included in wider regional devolution deals for combined authorities, the agreements must retain a strong urban focus, Jones added. “This should be a key consideration for the government as it extends its devolution agenda in the coming years.”

Milton Keynes Council leader Peter Marland said the five cities’ success is now producing challenges such as high housing costs, which act as a major barrier to recruitment and retention of skilled staff for local employers.

“We need the flexibility to provide local solutions such as more homes for social rent and better arrangements for infrastructure assembly so we continue to deliver to the benefit of our communities and the national economy.”

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