Ahead of next week's Summer Economic Update, Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of Core Cities UK and Leader of Leeds City Council, outlines its plans for a radical approach to recovery.
COVID-19 has first and foremost been a human tragedy and we must not forget the thousands who have died and the valiant efforts of those across the public services that kept our country going during the great crisis.
Cities and city regions displayed strong leadership during the response phase to this pandemic, housing the homeless and vulnerable, making sure children in poverty continued to receive school lunches and keeping transport networks going so vital key workers could continue to travel to work.
Now we are entering the recovery phase and we must keep that local voice at the heart of what we do next, avoiding a centrally planned, command and control-style recovery which will waste time and money.
So far, the signs are not encouraging, Core Cities UK welcomes economic stimulus but the New Deal is not enough money working out at under £100 per person. It pales into insignificance against President Roosevelt's original economic intervention and is the economic equivalent of bringing a water pistol to a gun battle.
The signs for the post-Covid economy are already ominous, big employers like Airbus, EasyJet and Rolls Royce have signalled big job losses, many of them affecting the cities we represent.
There is no point in trying to meet this challenge with a set of national ‘one size fits all’ solutions. What we need is devolved skills, employment and stimulus packages that will not only deliver training and jobs where most needed, but are a pathway to a green economy.
We will only ‘bounce forward’ if we are far more ambitious and as Core Cities we will lobby together with city regions, underlining our potential for growth.
Over the last few weeks Core Cities UK has put a series of proposals to Government, which have one ‘golden thread’ running through them, that recovery needs to be locally led by people who know their communities best.
This week we wrote to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, setting out four priorities for ‘levelling up’ the nation post Covid-19.
The first priority has to be funding, some of the UK’s largest cities – at the heart of regions that drive 26pc of our economy and are home to 20 million people – are close to bankruptcy because of Covid-19. It is as stark as that.
Revenues have plummeted while spending has mushroomed. We cannot play our part in the recovery unless we are properly resourced. Government says austerity is no longer an option, but we risk more cuts to the vital services to which we owe so much unless help is forthcoming.
We need a grown up conversation with Government about not only more money but greater stability – for example budgets that are set over three years allowing us to plan properly. This is not a bail out, it is an investment in the local state that will be crucial to delivering recovery.
It is time for Government to recognise the role of cities and city regions within national policy and how to lever them for wider benefit. Our ongoing work with the OECD on regional productivity is key to this.
We also need to ditch the tired arguments about cities vs towns. As the OECD found, cities and the places around them are mutually dependent and connected in a myriad of different ways. Invest in cities and surrounding areas will grow and benefit.
And it’s not just about more money, we need to make sure the existing tools we have at our disposal are fit for purpose. For example, we should revive and reform Enterprise Zones, bringing them into alignment with the Government’s Freeports initiative and we should focus some of the money in the long-awaited Shared Prosperity Fund towards projects that will deliver jobs and drive growth in cities, thus benefiting the entire city region.
The solutions are complex, but our message to Government ahead of next week's Economic Update is simple - put cities and city regions at the heart of this nation's economic recovery. A crisis like no other needs bold and radical solutions. Give us the tools and the resources to do the job and we will deliver.