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Now's time to drive forward 'city regions'.

Byline: Jeff Jones AT THE HEART OF BUSINESS AFFAIRS Jeff Jones is director of Metier Consulting

LAST week saw news that the Assembly intends to announce the creation of a new city region board for south-east Wales.

Great news, many would argue, given the fact that in much of the world city regions play such an important part in driving forward economic growth.

The UK traditionally has been one of the most centralised countries in the world - a situation which Greg Clark, UK government Minister for Cities and Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has recently described as being "a disaster for urban Britain".

In other countries which are much more successful than the UK, city regions are seen not as a threat to national or regional government but key elements in boosting the national economy.

They are not frightened of giving cities more powers to raise revenue and introduce innovate policies which might not chime with the political ideology of the national government.

London might dominate the UK but 14 German cities had productivity rates faster than Berlin.

For those of us who support city regions, the real disappointment in the Business Minister's interview was the failure to copy the Manchester model.

In Manchester all 10 of the local authorities are represented on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The combined authority has also recently signed an innovative city deal with the UK Government. Under the deal, the combined authority can earn back up to PS30m year in tax from any growth created.

requires inspired can The authority is already talking of using UK, European and local money to spend PS1.2bn on new infrastructure.

There is also now a Greater Manchester Housing Investment Board committed to building 5,000 to 7,000 houses in the city region by 2017.

The way Manchester is moving forward shows the real danger of South East Wales being left behind as the core cities in England embrace the city region concept.

Besides Manchester, the other seven core cities represent the big urban areas in England -- Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Last week, together with the Mayor of London and the London councils, they announced a new campaign for greater financial freedom for England's largest cities, including the devolution of a number of taxes.

What is interesting about this group is its cross-party nature. Mayor of London Boris Johnson is working with Labour leaders and independents such as the elected Mayor of Bristol to produce a formidable lobby group to argue for real radical change.

In England politicians from all parties are beginning to realise that the present over-centralised system might not be the best way to move the UK economy forward.

If we believe that city regions are somehow "20-year projects" linked to a transport scheme which might start sometime after 2019, then we are in real danger of being left behind.

The creation of real city regions requires radical action now and inspired political leadership which can look beyond parochialism.

The present local government structure in Wales is well past its sell-by date.

Even with the good financial settlements in the past, it hasn't really delivered what is needed to drive the communities of South Wales forward.

The crisis of public sector cuts should been seen, to quote one of President's Obama's advisers, as an opportunity.

Ironically, the recent announcement by the Assembly for school improvement to be driven forward by four consortia might even present the basis for real change.

Just imagine what might be achieved in Wales with four city regions, each headed - as they would be in North America or Europe - by a directly elected and accountable politician.

Radical change is never popular, particularly with those who for various reasons are comfortable with the status quo and often have, to quote Charles de Gaulle, an "apres moi le deluge" approach to politics.

But, given the low GDP in much of South East Wales, many might argue that we need a step-change in our approach to the economy and have nothing to lose by going for the option of radical change.

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The creation of real city regions requires radical action now and inspired political leadership which can look beyond parochialism

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Jeff Jones argues the creation of real city regions requires radical action
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 7, 2013
Words:722
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