Metro mayors – what is their worth?

market_townBy Heather Cameron

As voters went to the polls once again on 4th May for the local elections, six combined authorities in England saw directly-elected metro mayors chosen for the first time, as part of the government’s devolution agenda.

The six areas – Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley, the West of England and the West Midlands – account for almost 20% of the population of England. This means a third of the English population, including London, now have a directly-elected metro mayor.

Advocates of the role believe metro mayors have the potential to transform both local democracy and local economies. However, not everyone is as supportive.

What are directly-elected metro mayors and what are their responsibilities?

Directly-elected metro mayors are chairs of their area’s combined authority, elected by the local population. Their role involves working in partnership with the combined authority to exercise the powers and functions devolved by central government, set out in the local area’s devolution deal. In contrast to existing city mayors, who are also directly elected, or local council leaders who make decisions for, and on behalf of, their local authorities, metro mayors have the power to make decisions for whole city regions.

The devolved powers predominantly focus on strategic matters, including housing and planning, skills, transport and economic development, with the exception of Greater Manchester, which also has powers and funding related to criminal justice and health and social care. Each devolution deal is very much tailored to the local area however, so the combined authorities will have varying powers and budgets.

The aim of metro mayors is to support local economic growth, while providing greater democratic accountability.

Concerns

While the government believes the role ensures clear accountability over devolved powers and funding, concerns have been voiced within local government itself about the accountability, effectiveness and necessity of the incoming combined authority mayors. And democratic support for the role has always been weak.

In terms of accountability, metro mayors will not be accountable to an elected assembly, as in London, but only to their cabinet made up of other council leaders. This, and their potentially wide-ranging powers have been highlighted as a concern in terms of back-room stich-up deals being created between mayors and individual authorities“.

Their introduction has also been described as “potentially worrying” as the local people were never given the opportunity to have a say on the new roles and that, instead, they are products of ‘deals done behind closed doors between councillors and representatives of central government.’

It appears rather ironic that this proposal of greater devolution may actually reflect an imposition from central government of its own policies and desires on local government.

Nevertheless, the new metro mayors do enable greater local control over local matters and have been argued to represent the best chance yet of ensuring devolution is sustainable over time. It is also likely they will get increasing powers over time, as in London.

But the question remains whether they will facilitate local economic growth and help to re-balance the English economy.

Final thoughts

Whether the new metro mayors will succeed in this aim or not, only time will tell. There has been little evidence of improved performance under elected mayors in England so far, although it has been suggested there is some evidence that their introduction has resulted in quicker and more transparent decision-making, that the mayor had a higher public profile, that the council was better at dealing with complex issues, and that there was improved relationships between partners.

Some of the successes of the London mayor have also been suggested to be an indication of the potential impact of the directly-elected mayor role.

As has recently been argued, their success, or otherwise, “should be judged on whether they improve prospects for the people who live in their city regions, stimulating growth and getting local public services working better”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on devolution:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

Highlighting policy and practice: research briefings from The Knowledge Exchange

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So far this year, our team of Research Officers in The Knowledge Exchange have researched and written more than 30 policy and research briefings on a diverse range of subjects, from housing and planning to technology and training. Written in a clear and concise style, each briefing brings together examples of recently published evidence, alerts readers to new and continuing developments and signposts sources of further information. New briefings are available exclusively to members of our Information Service, and the choice of topics is driven by what our members are asking us about.

Today’s blog post offers a flavour of just some of the topics we’ve been covering during the year.

Housing

In many parts of the UK, people are struggling to buy or rent affordable housing. One consequence is a rise in homelessness. Our briefing – Delivering solutions to tackle homelessness – describes the complexities involved in defining homelessness, and the subsequent difficulties in measuring the scale of the problem. The causes of homelessness are no less complex, and the briefing lists some of the factors that lead to people finding themselves on the street, such as eviction, unemployment, health problems and relationship breakdowns. It also highlights approaches to tackling homelessness, such as social impact bonds and homeless health peer advocacy.

Planning

Closely related to housing is the role of planning in ensuring that individuals and families not only have adequate homes, but the infrastructure and services needed to support communities. One of the significant developments in this area has been the UK government’s policy on devolving more powers (including planning) to England’s cities and regions. Our briefing – Devolution of planning powers to city-regions – explains that each devolution deal agreed between the UK government and local authorities is tailored to the local area. In the West Midlands, for example, a directly-elected mayor will be given planning powers to drive housing delivery and improvements.

The briefing notes that, while there is widespread agreement that devolution of planning powers to local areas is a positive step, there is also concern that local areas won’t be able to deliver what they need to in terms of planning without control of expenditure, much of which is still retained by central government.

Technology

Our “Ideas in Practice” series of briefings presents case studies of projects and initiatives that have tackled a range of social issues, often resulting in reduced costs or improved efficiency. Our smart cities briefing on MK: Smart outlines a technology-led urban innovation project in Milton Keynes that aims to improve the town’s key infrastructure in areas such as transport, energy, and water. One of MK:Smart’s success stories is its Smart Parking initiative, which has encouraged drivers to use limited parking spaces more effectively, as well as providing the council with a better understanding of parking behaviour.

Another technology-focused briefing looks at the increasing development of “serious games” in the domains of planning, education, health and cultural heritage. Serious games in the policy field have borrowed elements from the video games sector, such as virtual reality, simulations and digital game-based learning. As well as improving skills and engagement among individuals, serious games have been used as a powerful way of introducing new concepts to the public, and providing people with an understanding of different points of view. The briefing showcases some examples of the application of serious games, including ‘B3— Design your Marketplace!’ which created an immersive and playful environment to encourage citizens to give their views on the design of a marketplace in Billstedt, a district of Hamburg.

Education, training and skills

A number of our briefings this year have focused on the all-important areas of education, training and skills. The Ideas in Practice briefing on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education considers key trends and practical applications. Among the initiatives highlighted in the briefing is Third Space Learning, which connects primary schools in England and Wales with maths specialists via one-to-one online sessions.

In August, we published a briefing focusing on the impact of outdoor learning on educational attainment. It includes information on the implementation of the Forest School initiative in the UK, which places emphasis on children having contact with nature from an early age. The briefing highlights evidence that pupils with the highest connection to nature have been found to perform better in exams, and notes the positive impact on the attainment of those from deprived backgrounds.

Crime

Our briefing on urban gang crime highlights some of the ways that local authorities and organisations have sought to tackle the problem. One of the case studies focused on the exploitation of young women by gangs in Manchester. Delivered by women who have survived gang exploitation, it provides one-to-one support, allowing both mentors and victims to create lasting relationships and networks of support which help them as they transition from life within a gang. In 2013, the project won the Women in Housing award for best community/ training project for its work in rebuilding women’s lives.

Further information

This is just a taster of the variety of subjects addressed in The Knowledge Exchange’s policy and research briefings. A fuller list of briefings is provided here, and members of the Idox Information Service can keep up-to-date with newly-published briefings via our weekly Bulletin.

Supercouncils: questions raised about new powers for England’s combined authorities

town hall photo

Image: James Carson

Just over a year ago, Manchester began blazing a trail for devolution in England. Ten local authorities in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) signed a deal with George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the transfer of powers in areas such as transport and skills from central to local government.

Since then, the English devolution bandwagon has picked up speed. After the general election in May, the newly-elected Conservative government introduced a Cities and Devolution Bill , creating a framework for the transfer of powers to the regions, and making provision for directly elected mayors.

During the summer, the Chancellor invited cities, towns and communities across the UK to submit their own devolution proposals, and by September 38 submissions had been received (including a number from Scotland and Wales).

Meanwhile, further deals have been announced, giving greater autonomy to local authorities in Sheffield, Cornwall, the North East of England and the Tees Valley. In November, two further deals were announced for the West Midlands and Liverpool.

As its momentum gathers pace, questions have arisen over the nature and implications of devolution for England’s cities and regions.

The devolution time frame

In October, a survey for Local Government Chronicle (LGC) highlighted concerns about the devolution timetable. 69% of the 45 chief executives and deputies responding to the survey indicated that the seven-week timeframe given to put a proposal together had been too tight. Of those councils which had not submitted a bid, 38% said they could not arrange a partnership with another authority, while 8% said they could not convince politicians in their area to agree.  However, the survey also indicated that 15% of councils were holding back on bids to see how other authorities fared first.

Accountability, transparency, public involvement

Some of the key governance issues surrounding devolution were considered in a report by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

The report was critical of the secrecy of the deal-making process, noting that details were only being released when agreements had been reached:

“Local people – anyone, indeed, not involved in the negotiations – need to understand what devolution priorities are being arrived at and agreed on. Increased public exposure in this process will lead to a more informed local debate. At the very least, the broad shape and principles of a bid for more devolved powers should be opened up to the public eye.”

The report argued that governance arrangements for the work that combined authority areas will be doing in future need to satisfy three conditions:

  • Accountability: decision-makers must clearly take responsibility, and engage with those seeking to hold them to account (non-executives, the public, and others)
  • Transparency: it must be clear (to professionals, elected councillors and the public) who is making decisions, on what, when, why and how
  • Involvement: a commitment to public involvement should be seen as central to good governance.

Directly elected mayors

In 2012, plans to replace local council cabinets with directly elected mayors were rejected by voters in nine English cities, including Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds.

However, the government has insisted that devolving powers to English regions is now conditional on the inclusion of directly elected mayors. In May the chancellor explained why he thought this was so important:

“It’s right people have a single point of accountability; someone they elect, who takes the decisions and carries the can. So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone. But nor will I settle for less.”

George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government at the London School of Economics, has asserted that the concentration of power in one person is undesirable:

“…the advantage of collective leadership is it enables exploration of policy from different perspectives. Colleagues can consider possible impacts of policy in a variety of contexts, spotting pitfalls ahead and the consequences for different people and groups. A single person is unlikely to represent the diverse complexities of a large urban, metropolitan or county region area better than can collective leadership.”

The journey to greater autonomy for England’s regions has only just begun, but it’s already clear that the path to devolution will not be straightforward.


Read more about English devolution in our previous blogs:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Entrepreneurship – the way to drive growth?

Torn newspaper headlines depicting business strategy

By Heather Cameron

With endless negative reports on the state of the economy over recent years, the findings of a new study by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), The UK growth dashboard 2015, should make for encouraging reading.

Start-ups at record level

The report shows that small businesses have finally made up the ground lost since the recession, with jobs, start-up and growth rates returning to pre-crisis levels in 2014 for the first time since 2008.

Professor Mark Hart, Deputy Director of ERC, said:

“The UK Growth Dashboard provides us with the most detailed picture of where entrepreneurial activity and business growth is occurring around the country.

It shows us that small businesses in every corner of the UK are growing at their fastest rate since the Great Recession, while more and more entrepreneurs have the confidence to take the plunge.”

The UK now has the highest number of start-ups in its history. There were 581,173 new business registrations in 2014, representing an accelerated increase on previous years, and figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of firms dropping out of the register has fallen by 6%.

According to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index, the UK is the most entrepreneurial country in Europe and ranks fourth overall.

Regional disparities

Despite such growth however, the dashboard reveals that large regional disparities still remain in entrepreneurship and small business growth across the nations, city-regions and each of the 39 English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas.

In England, a complex picture emerges in terms of LEP geography, which challenges some of the presumptions made about growth hotspots across England.

While London dominates, as expected, there is not a simple north-south divide. Major city regions and more rural LEPs from across the country also have above average rates of start-ups. There are 11 local areas in England with above average rates of start-ups showing early signs of scaling. London tops the list but the local area of Birmingham is close behind, as are the local areas of Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.

There are also a number of places with above average proportions of fast-growing firms. These include some areas in the South East such as Oxfordshire and Thames Valley. Perhaps surprisingly however Leicester and Leicestershire, Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Northampton and South East Midlands LEP areas as well as Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds City Region LEPs also come under this category – showing that some of the fastest growing businesses in the UK are delivering jobs and revenues as well as wealth for their owners outside London and the South East. Perhaps entrepreneurial activity could therefore help to combat the traditional north-south divide in terms of growth.

Economic impact

Indeed, there is evidence that entrepreneurial activity has a positive impact on economic growth independent of other factors.

A number of benefits recently highlighted include:

  • enhanced economic growth through introducing innovative technologies, products, and services;
  • existing firms are challenged to become more competitive due to increased competition from entrepreneurs;
  • new job opportunities in the short and longer term;
  • raised productivity of firms and economies;
  • and accelerated structural change by replacing established, inflexible firms.

It is argued that such benefits will be greater in economies where entrepreneurs can operate flexibly, develop their ideas, and reap the rewards.

Barriers to growth

Regulatory barriers have been cited as a significant impediment to successful entrepreneurship, such as the need to buy permits or licenses. The above report argues that governments need to cut red tape, streamline regulations, and prepare for the adverse effects of job losses in incumbent firms that fail because of the new competition.

Lack of capital, risk to household income and concerns about lack of skills and impact on future career are also significant barriers to enterprise. A recent report from the Social Market Foundation suggests that these barriers are preventing potential ‘high-value entrepreneurship’, which, it argues, has the widest positive impact on the UK economy. While the UK has record levels of entrepreneurship overall, it lags behind other countries on rates of high value entrepreneurship.

The growth dashboard similarly reports that skills and staff, and finance are in the top four main barriers to growth among clients in England. These are a particular barrier in more rural LEPs.

Way forward

It would seem that policy-makers need to help overcome these barriers and encourage the support of entrepreneurs directly rather than impeding their potential with unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The SMF report recommends:

  • prohibiting non-compete clauses in employment contracts;
  • championing flexible working;
  • introducing a ‘right to return’ for people leaving work to start a new business;
  • and reinstating tax reliefs for corporate venturing.

Perhaps if such barriers can be overcome, we will see record levels of all types of entrepreneurship and thus increased productivity.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on entrepreneurship and economic development – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Culture, entrepreneurship and uneven development: a spatial analysis, IN Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Vol 26 No 9-10 Nov-Dec 2014, pp726-752

Business start-ups and youth self-employment in the UK: a policy literature review (2015, University of Brighton)

Policy brief on expanding networks for inclusive entrepreneurship (2015, OECD)

Commercial councils: the rise of entrepreneurialism in local government (2015, Localis)

Self-employment as a route in and out of Britain’s South East, IN Regional Studies, Vol 49 No 4 Apr 2015, pp665-680

Cultural diversity and entrepreneurship in England and Wales, IN Environment and Planning A, Vol 47 No 2 Feb 2015, pp392-411

Activating jobseekers through entrepreneurship: start-up incentives in Europe (2014, European Employment Policy Observatory)

Economic resilience and entrepreneurship: lessons from the Sheffield City Region, IN Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Vol 26 Nos 3-4, pp257-281

Is entrepreneurship a route out of deprivation?, IN Regional Studies, Vol 48 No 6 Jun 2014, pp1090-1107

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

A bleak future for UK arts funding?

5349310766_ea97e0ee88_bBy Stacey Dingwall

At the moment, it seems like hardly a week goes by without the announcement of cuts to funding for arts organisations across the country. In July 2014, it was announced that, due to changes in the way it distributes its funding, Arts Council England would be reducing the amount of annual funding it provides to the English National Opera by 29%. On top of this, 33 organisations were informed that their funding would be stopped altogether, and 670 that the amount they receive would be frozen for the time being.

Cuts across the regions

The picture is similar across the country. In October, it was revealed that Arts Council Wales’ 2015/16 budget would be reduced by £300,000 on the previous year. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is facing an 11.2% reduction in its own budget for the year ahead. And in Scotland, more than half of the organisations, including the Scottish Youth Theatre, who applied to Creative Scotland for long-term funding at the end of 2014 had their bids turned down.

Reactions to these announcements have been widely negative, from the public, leading arts figures and the organisations themselves. Accepting a theatre award last week, the actor David Tennant argued that providing funding to the UK creative industries is an “investment” rather than an “expense”, and that “the arts bring in so much more money to this economy than they take out”.

This was backed up a couple of days later in a report published by the Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, after a year-long examination of the UK creative arts sector. According to the Commission, the sector represents 5% of the total UK economy, valued at £76.9 billion.

Despite this, the sector presently receives just 0.3% of public spend annually, a figure which many involved in the sector expect will only decrease; new analysis carried out for the London School of Economics has predicted that English local council spending on the arts could fall by as much as 33% over the next five years. In real terms, this would represents a fall in funding of £750 million between 2014 and 2019, making arts the fourth hardest hit service during that period, behind planning, transport and housing.

Unfair distribution?

Aside from the actual amount of funding provided to the arts, another key issue is its distribution across the regions. In October 2014, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the report of its enquiry into the work of Arts Council England, which criticised the “clear funding imbalance” in favour of London in the Council’s distribution of grants and aid.

Many have argued that this has been an issue for some time; a 2013 report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, argued that of the £320 million allocated by Arts Council England in 2012/13, £20 per capita went to London, with only £3.60 per head given to the rest of England.

Separate analysis of Arts Council England’s national investment plans for 2015-2018 by GPS Culture, Hard Facts to Swallow, placed the overall balance of investment from the Council’s grant-in-aid and lottery income streams over this period at 4.1:1 in London’s favour. According to this analysis, £689 million (43.4%) will be invested in the London arts scene, providing a per capita return of £81.87 per head of population (php); £900 million will be provided for arts in the rest of England, generating a per capita return of £19.80 php.

Things can only get….worse?

Should there be a change in government at the upcoming general election, it doesn’t look like this will improve the funding situation for the arts. In January this year, the Labour Party was criticised for ‘bragging’ that it wouldn’t reverse the arts funding cuts announced by the coalition government, should it gain office in May. Although she has criticised cuts to arts funding imposed by the current government in the past, the deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman indicated that as “this government has failed on living standards and failed on the deficit”, a future Labour Government would be unable to reverse all of their decisions made regarding cuts going forward, including on arts.

In the meantime, many UK arts organisations are turning to an alternative means of financing their projects: crowdfunding. The last few years have seen many filmmakers and musicians across the world turn to platforms such as Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground, and last year The Art Fund launched its own platform, Art Happens, to help UK museums and galleries raise money for creative projects. Through this, it is intended that British museums will be able to continue to present the innovative projects which they, and the entire UK arts sector, are globally renowned for.


This article was originally published on 3 March on the Idox Grantfinder expert blog.

We are Europe’s leading provider of grants and policy information and have been providing support to UK organisations since 1985.

 

Grey men dreaming of vibrant cities?

Image by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

Image of MediaCity, Manchester by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

They control combined budgets of over £10bn, deliver 24.4% of the combined economic output of England, Scotland and Wales, and are home to over 21 million people. What are they? The Core Cities of the UK – and as pre-election lobbying ramps up a gear they are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

Last week I attended the Core Cities Devolution Summit. This event, hosted in Glasgow, marked the launch of a modern charter for local freedom. It also gave those interested in the current cities agenda a chance to hear from the city leaders on the potential benefits of reform.

I won’t summarise the charter, or the main recommendations of a new report from ResPublica which argues for the fullest possible devolution of public spending and tax raising powers to the UK’s largest cities and city regions. Instead, here are a few reflections on the day.

Bespoke devolution

The hype over Manchester’s recent devolution agreement with the Treasury shouldn’t distract from the fact that devolution is not a one-size-fits-all model. The idea isn’t to try and mimic Manchester’s journey – what’s on the cards is an approach that takes account of local circumstances.

I’m not sure that the end result of this – potentially radically different priorities in revenue generation, service delivery and spending between neighbouring metropolitan areas – is being communicated in a transparent way. Ben Page from IpsosMori shared some interesting survey results which suggest that public opinion also lags behind the political agenda:

ipsos survey 1

ipsos survey 2Leadership not bureaucracy

Mention devolution and one of the immediate responses of naysayers is to complain it’s just yet another layer of governance – more costs, more staff, more vested interests. This was raised during Q&A and the panel responded by saying that what they are proposing doesn’t require massive reorganisation – it’s about effective leadership. The same pots of money are used but funds can be accessed in different ways for different purposes.

This was only half-convincing. Repeated reference to place-based decision-making (breaking down functional /organisational silos to ensure services are focused on outcomes and those residents with complex needs) didn’t really explain how you build the trust and political capacity that’s needed to roll out transformation across multiple agencies/workforces at the same speed and scale.

Equalities

Presenting a different perspective on the day was Professor Lesley Sawers, who highlighted the risks of unintended consequences from devolution in terms of social justice and inequalities. She argued that so far localism has led to an approach to investment that has not been particularly effective in tackling equalities issues.

Cities should be great agents of social reform but the rhetoric around growth has a tendency to focus on infrastructure and macroeconomics – ignoring social challenges such as skills, poverty and under-achievement. And it may seem an easy point to score, but running an event with only 3 female speakers out of 25, didn’t really send a great message to observers. Don’t even mention the lack of ethnic diversity on the platform.

What now?

The devolution agenda may be the ‘only show in town’ but whether the core cities can take advantage of this to benefit and engage their own populations remains to be seen.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on governance and city regions. Members receive regular briefings as well as access to our Ask a Researcher enquiry service.

Britain’s cities push for more powers

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Manchester Town Hall: (Photograph, James Carson)

On 9 February, leading politicians, decision makers and academics will meet in Glasgow to discuss how more powers can be devolved to the UK’s cities. The meeting is being organised by the Core Cities group, which advocates a bigger say for Britain’s major cities outside London.

The Glasgow gathering is the latest sign of a growing appetite for financial freedom for the UK’s cities and regions.  The movement picked up pace during the Scottish independence referendum campaign with the pledge by political party leaders at Westminster to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament.  The subsequent publication of the Smith Commission’s recommendations  prompted Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council and chair of the Core Cities UK cabinet, to respond:

“What’s good enough for the Scottish Parliament should be good enough for big cities across the UK. Today’s commission report unveils significant fiscal devolution for Scotland and the power to retain more of the tax revenue it raises. This is something that Core Cities UK strongly advocates for cities on both sides of the border, giving us the power to make a difference on the ground and unlocking their full potential.”

But even before the Smith Commission had reported, devolution for cities was rising up the political agenda, and the major Westminster parties had already started setting out their proposals:

  • In November, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, unveiled a plan to give Manchester new powers over transport, planning, housing, police and skills. Similar packages are proposed for Leeds and Sheffield, part of the government’s commitment to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ as a counterbalance to the ‘London super-region’;
  • The Labour Party has promised that, if elected to government, it will pass control of business rates to the major cities, and that the House of Lords will be replaced by a senate of elected regional and city representatives;
  • The Liberal Democrats have called for devolution on demand to be offered to any part of England with a population in excess of one million.

Politics is one factor driving the demand for more city devolution; another is the economic situation. As the Centre For Cities recently observed:

“From a public finance perspective, there is an increasing realisation that future reductions in public sector expenditure will be impossible to deliver without changing the way public services are designed and delivered, and this requires more to be done at the local level.”

For many, the moves to cut the purse strings held by Whitehall and Westminster are long overdue.  The City Growth Commission noted in October that the UK has the most centralised system of public finance of any major OECD country, with sub-national taxation accounting for only 1.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to 5% in France and 16% in Sweden.

The Commission argued that more powers for the cities would build on the momentum of the government’s City Deals by creating stronger, more inclusive and sustainable growth in the UK, and suggested that London, Manchester and West Yorkshire are already equipped to take on the risks and benefits of fiscal and funding devolution.  While some, including the Prime Minister, welcomed the report, others, such as Stephen Brady, leader of Hull city council felt short changed:

“I’m really, really disappointed that Hull once again has been overlooked in favour of the bigger cities. We’re like the forgotten city, despite being strategically so important. We’ve won the City of Culture 2017 bid. What else can we do to prove that we want to be given the chance to run things ourselves?”

His response is a reminder that establishing a comprehensive devolution settlement that covers all of Britain will prove challenging.

Ultimately, the real prize of city devolution could be a fairer society. A report from the International Monetary Fund in April 2014 found that decentralising government expenditure and revenue can help achieve a more equal distribution of income. But the authors stressed that this would require several conditions to be fulfilled, including comprehensive decentralisation on both the expenditure and revenue sides.

During its Glasgow meeting in February, the Core Cities group promises to unveil a ‘Charter for Local Freedom’ setting out the powers  it wants central government to devolve down to cities. And with cities set to play a key role in shaping the outcome of the general election, it’s clear that this is one issue that will continue to build. As Alexandra Jones from the Centre for Cities observes:

“The debates about devolution and the city regions have not always had political momentum; there’s no shortage of that now.”


Further reading

We’ll be attending the Core Cities Devolution Summit on 9 February – follow @idoxinfoservice for live tweets and this blog for follow-up commentary.

Devo-City: a short guide to Britain’s devolving city regions in words and data

Tales of the cities

Economic growth through devolution: towards a plan for cities and counties across England

Charter for devolution

Abstracts and access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

Britain’s ports: gearing up for the next generation of carriers

In contrast to high speed rail lines and airports, seaports don’t often feature in the headlines. But Britain’s ports continue to be strategic links in the chain connecting local and global markets, accounting for:

  • 95% of all cargo movements by tonnage into the UK;
  • 400,000 jobs;
  • £21 billion to the economy each year; and
  • significant economic impacts on their hinterlands.

However, the port sector is particularly vulnerable to cyclical boom and bust movements. Container throughput in UK ports has fallen for three consecutive years, reflecting a downturn in global trade. To cut its costs, the industry has increased the scale of transport. Ten years ago, the largest container ships travelling from Asia to Europe held 8,000 to 10,000 containers.  These days, as The Independent observed, a new generation of carriers are ruling the waves:

“These triple-E class ships stretch for a quarter of a mile and carry over 18,000 standard 20-foot containers, enough to hold a billion dollars of cargo; if you tried to unload them in one go, the line of trucks would stretch for 68 miles.”

In the UK, there are six berths currently capable of handling such large vessels: three in Felixstowe and two in Southampton. The sixth, and perhaps the most significant is at London Gateway.

Situated at Thurrock, Essex, on the north bank of the River Thames, this new ‘superport’  began operating in 2013. When it reaches full capacity several years from now, London Gateway will be able to handle 3.5 million containers a year. The facility also includes a 9 million sq ft logistics park – the largest in Europe.  London Gateway’s owners – Dubai-based DP World – are banking on this ‘port-centric’ approach paying dividends when the economy picks up.

Currently, a large proportion of maritime containers are shipped inland from container ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton to distribution centres in the Midlands, then freighted back to their final destination. London Gateway believes its big selling point is that its own logistics facilities in the South East are closer to the bulk of the UK population, and will cut out unnecessary HGV mileage and CO2 emissions, while generating cost savings.

There are concerns, however, that London Gateway will draw traffic away from rival UK ports. In response to the challenge from London Gateway, the Suffolk port of Felixstowe, owned by a Hong Kong conglomerate, is planning to double its capacity to 8 million containers by 2030.

Britain’s regional ports are also looking to the future:

  • Work has begun on a £300m project that will add half a million containers to the Port of Liverpool every year, taking its annual capacity to two million;
  • The Bristol Port Company is currently building a £600m deep sea container terminal at Avonmouth Dock to handle large container vessels and next-generation ultra large container ships;
  • Aberdeen Harbour is investigating expansion to a site in nearby Nigg Bay;
  • In Hull, the Alexandra Dock will be transformed into a service hub for the giant wind farms being built in the North Sea.

Concerns about overcapacity remain, heightened by the loss of services from Thamesport on the River Medway to its rivals in Felixstowe and Southampton, and the decision by the SAECS consortium to switch its traffic from Tilbury to London Gateway.

It’s unlikely that any British port will match the throughput of the world’s busiest seaports (in 2013 Shanghai handled almost 34 million containers). However, the extensive and widespread expansion plans suggest that when the anticipated upturn happens, Britain’s ports will be ready.


 

Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on transport and infrastructure. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

How will the Atlantic Gateway support sustainable economic growth?

Governance, governance models and port performance: a systematic review

The impact of container type diversification on regional British port development strategies

Port to port (how renewables can revive Scotland’s ports)

State of the art (London Gateway deep-water port)

Ports and regional development: a spatial analysis on a panel of European regions

N.B. Abstracts and access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

Does tourism pay? Assessing the evidence

Travel shutterstock_107480828

by Brelda Baum

It is estimated that tourism has the potential to generate $2 trillion globally by 2020 – as the economic situation improves and the ‘Great Recession’ is deemed all but over, let’s take a look at the evidence of the economic value of tourism to the UK and its regions.

The Deloitte and Oxford Economics report ‘Tourism: jobs and growth – the economic contribution of the tourism economy in the UK’ provides an analysis of the performance of the tourism industry Continue reading