Dear Prime Minister
We are writing to congratulate you on your appointment, set out a series of issues that are critical to both your and our agendas, and offer to work with you to help address them.
It was gratifying to hear you praise the role of the UK’s great regional cities in your speech in Birmingham earlier this week. You may know, the urban areas surrounding our ten Core Cities deliver a quarter of the UK economy, are home to diverse communities of 19 million people and function as large international business and trading hubs.
But despite our scale, our cities’ productivity is low by international standards and after several years of austerity public spending has not actually reduced much across urban areas - instead moving from services that focus on prevention to those that focus on crisis, particularly health and welfare.
Meanwhile, it is local Government that has continues to make the biggest contribution to reducing public spending.
We estimate we now have a ‘productivity gap’ of some £66 billion a year between our cities and the national economic average.
Our offer to you is to close this gap, helping you to deliver a successful ‘Brexit’, a more inclusive economy and strengthened communities.
A successful ‘Brexit’
Core Cities UK campaigned for remain, but we accept that exit from the EU will take place following the referendum result. We now need to ensure this transition is as successful as possible for our businesses and communities and we must start with a shared vision of what that success looks like.
EU funding currently spent across our city regions should remain in our city regions, including for universities which are central to strong labour markets. Establishing a secure trading future with access to the Single Market is fundamental to economic success.
Across the EU and beyond, it is cities that drive growth for their nations, and although other places must be given their chance and share in future growth, if the UK’s biggest cities are not successful then the places around them will struggle even more.
Finally, we understand that Brexit will be a complex and labour intensive progress. Despite this, we’d urge you not to let it eclipse other important legislation that can aid cities and grow our economies like HS2 and the Buses Bill.
We would also appreciate having some kind of voice in the forthcoming negotiating process so we can make sure the point of view of our great cities is heard.
A more inclusive economy
As city leaders and mayors, we understand the need for a more inclusive economy. We are supporting the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission, chaired by Stephanie Flanders, and undertaking significant work to understand how to help more people share in prosperity and improve their life chances.
We believe part of the solution is to understand the link between social and economic policy – too often they are seen as separate. We must also look at the role of high quality public services play in connecting people to the labour market and job progression.
This is not a call to spend more, it is a call to spend differently and more efficiently - connecting up services and agencies, reducing duplication and waste, improving outcomes and life chances. As cities we have a significant and successful track record in delivering public service reform through a ‘place-based approach’ making a difference to thousands of lives.
Our role encompasses community leadership across some of the most diverse areas of the UK. We are determined to make sure the high levels of tolerance and openness in our cities are maintained and increased.
A key component of this is ensuring greater economic opportunity, so that when people enter employment they are treated fairly and have opportunities to progress. Elements of EU legislation have been helpful to this broader ambition, for example on workers’ rights.
Access to housing also creates stronger communities, that is why we have developed plans to accelerate housebuilding as part of our devolution proposals.
In summary, our cities must remain open for business if the UK economy is to thrive and more people must share in more of that growth.
When our Core Cities do better, the UK does better. By working with us, you can have one conversation with one quarter of the UK to deliver a better ‘Brexit’, a more inclusive economy and strengthened communities.
We hope you will accept our offer and we would welcome a discussion with you.
Cllr Judith Blake, chair of Core Cities UK and Leader of Leeds City Council