I was pleased to see that the government is going to talk to 'fast growing' cities as part of the new city deals process. I think this makes sense, as I argued at the end of the last round of negotiations: "The final question concerns next steps. The government has committed itself to continued negotiations with the bigger cities. That's clearly welcome. The trickier thing is which new deals to start negotiating. I can imagine the temptation is to go for the next biggest cities in terms of population size. I think this would be a mistake if it excluded smaller cities that have, arguably, the biggest growth potential (to use the CfC e.g.: Cambridge, Milton Keynes). In the current economic climate, striking deals with some of these cities must be a top priority."
Other points from that post, remain relevant for the next round of negotiations:
"I am broadly sympathetic to the outcome that this process is trying to
achieve. British government is very centralised and more localisation
is, on balance, a good thing. That said the process does feel a little
odd with powers being granted in one area in exchange for commitments in
other unconnected policy areas (e.g. power over some transport spending
in exchange for a commitment on youth employment and training). Not
much point dwelling on it - the process is achieving something - but
you'd hope that in the longer run government will be looking to learn
lessons on what works with a view to localising in those areas across
In addition to supporting the ultimate objective, there are specific
things agreed in the latest round that I'd certainly support. The end of
RDAs left a vacuum in terms of sub-national strategy on transport (at
least for some cities). The deals generally look to fix this. Likewise
in the broad area of business support - investment funds, support for
enterprise, inward investment etc - although I confess to remaining
sceptical on whether these policies are cost-effective. I'm also pleased
to see local experimentation around
skills and training - not least because national policy in this area is
in a state of flux (or in a mess, depending on your perspective).
One thing that I don't yet understand is what happens if cities cannot
deliver on their commitments as part of the deal? For example, people
are talking about Leeds Deal as involving a commitment to achieving a
NEET free city (so all young people will be in education, employment or
training). That seems ambitious. What happens if they don't achieve it?
Even more extreme, what happens if outcome measures in some of these
employment and skill areas worsen (with significant budgetary
implications)? But true experimentation at the local level must allow
for the possibility that policy changes will make things worse, not
better, and I don't understand how the latter is going to be managed."
I get the impression the government is sympathetic to the argument for some 'core component' to the next round of deals, so it will be interesting to see how that develops. Finally, I'm still not sure what will happen if a city fails to meet its objectives - I guess we will see!
[NB I am not sure the BBC is right to say "The government earlier this year gave Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield
and five other authorities the right to spend tax receipts from local
firms." I thought the earnback deal was limited to Manchester on the first round]