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The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

22 March 2023

Dear Secretary of State,

Cities as a platform for change: our offer to Government

Members of LGA’s City Regions Board, Core Cities UK, Key Cities, and London Councils, alongside urban policymakers, academics and journalists have today gathered for our second annual Urban Summit. Three key questions guided our discussions:

What are cities and what role do they play in our social, economic and environmental systems?
In light of the challenges and opportunities ahead, what do we want and need our cities to be?
What plan do we need to meet this gap - how do we reach our vision for UK cities?

In holding this annual event, we want to set out our ambitious offer – that with the right policies, finances and space to deliver, cities can deliver better outcomes, not just for urban areas but the whole country.
Cities are the places which can level up our country, the places which can grow an economy fit for the future, and the places which can tackle the climate crisis. 
The Urban Summit has today heard reflections from the first phase of the RSA’s UK Urban Futures Commission. This commission, co-chaired by Andy Haldane and Mayor Marvin Rees is exploring how best to unlock our cities’ potential.

As the Government set out in the Levelling Up White Paper, cities have a long and proud history of being at the forefront of economic growth and development in our country. The first mission of the Levelling Up White Paper rightly states that every area of the UK should have a globally competitive city. But the RSA’s research thus far confirms what we already know to be true: that the UK’s cities lag behind their global competitors when it comes to productivity and growth. 
Further, the Commission is situating the economic challenges facing cities within the broader social and ecological context. Just as growth and productivity are below potential in the Core Cities, so are health and wellbeing. These are related, for example patterns of health and income disparities closely aligned.

Cities will also be at the forefront of the innovation and action needed to reach our climate ambitions. But this will require decisions in the short-term that are difficult for leaders to make in the context of constrained budgets and centralised decision-making. Further, the RSA’s work thus far has highlighted the ability to develop innovative and long-term proposals and partnerships is constrained by limited local capacity which impacts the levels and types of investment into the UK’s cities.

To transform cities economies, areas need investment, including a sustainable, long-term system for local government finance. Cities have a key role to play in driving in economic growth and prosperity. This should be recognised and they should be empowered to fairly keep the proceeds of local growth to reinvest according to local need. Urban leaders also need the space and autonomy to deliver - the UK remains one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. We appreciate that change of the scale needed will not happen overnight. But there are short term steps that can be taken to improve the ability of local areas to access the funding they need to level up their communities.

As urban leaders, we are calling for:

Building on the Urban Futures Commission, a reset in the relationship between national and local government, so local leaders can deliver the changes needed to truly level up their areas, working effectively with private and public partners to draw in vital investment;
A shift away from the current system of costly competitive bidding, including for levelling up funding. Subsequent rounds of the Levelling Up Fund should be allocated on the basis of robust evidence of where crucial investment needs to go; and better enable strategic decision making at the local level;
Urban areas should be given the ability to plan, commission and oversee a joined-up employment and skills service. Enabling the LGA’s Work Local proposals and introducing an integrated model would bring together advice and guidance, employment, skills, apprenticeships and business support and could result in a £420M benefit to the national economy.
Building on today’s Urban Summit, we would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss how we can work with central Government to develop a long-term plan for cities that reflects our recommendations above - working together to unlock the full potential of our places for the years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor Marvin Rees
Chair of the LGA City Regions Board and Chair of Core Cities 

Councillor Georgia Gould
Chair of London Councils

Councillor John Merry
Chair of Key Cities