Magazine article Public Finance

Follow the Regional Road

Magazine article Public Finance

Follow the Regional Road

Article excerpt

The Institute for Public Policy Research's call for both elected mayors in England's major cities and for city-regions around Birmingham and Manchester brings together what some among the local political classes view as quite separate issues.

Nevertheless, the New Local Government Network welcomes the further championing of this agenda. City-regions offer an exciting next step along the road to mature, empowered devolution and local government reform.

In the same way as London has benefited from clearer leadership and decision-making arrangements so a West Midlands or Greater Manchester city-region could mean governance modernised to reflect economic realities.

Ultimately, however, it is not for Whitehall or London-based thinktanks (ourselves included) to dictate how Greater Manchester, the West Midlands or indeed a 'Greater' Liverpool should move forward. The process must be shaped in part by the cultural identities of the areas themselves and, more importantly, by local expectations and demands.

Naturally, some conurbations will find the city-region concept difficult to swallow. Can one imagine Bradford and Wakefield handing over strategic responsibility to a 'Greater Leeds'?

Where the model does fit, however, it would bring scale and a more readily identifiable presence formed around real-life demographics, rather than the current administrative boundaries. Greater collaboration could mean component authorities in each city-region win billions of pounds of additional infrastructure investment, bolstering their competitive edge against counterparts across and beyond continental Europe.

All well and good, but what about regional co-ordination?

Some of the more radical advocates of the city-region model argue that it reguires the functions of the regional development agencies to be dispersed to these new subregional entities.

Although there is a logic to that argument, particularly in the light of the successes of the Greater London Authority model, it misses the point that such functions are more about collaborative co-ordination than big budget direct delivery.

The real guestion should be: 'Would we be better co-ordinating these delivery agencies at a cityregion rather than regional level?'

There is little evidence to suggest that such co-ordination would be vastly improved if left solely to subregional rather than regional bodies. Many RDAs have long recognised the existence of city-regions on their turf through the sub-regional partnerships and structures that have shaped their decision-making. …

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