I am returning to an old bug bear today. This was not planned but I was following by chance a public event/debate in Manchester relayed on twitter about #joiningtherevolution . This was a public debate with Howard Bernstein and others talking about the importance of working together with Liverpool and Leeds to further the economic prosperity of the area. So they were not talking about working together in Greater Manchester – that is assumed as read- he is talking about wider collaborations.
This follows on from the public positioning of the parties nationally recently (Osborne and Adonis) where they are starting to compete over who will devolve the most funding and powers. This is good news for cities – if we are to believe that there has been a change in understanding on the role of cities at national level. But what is clear both parties are not talking about devolving so much to individual authorities but authorities working together. Such arrangements are currently called combined authorities.
So where do we in Birmingham compare to the other large cities outside of London. As was pointed out in the debate over Birmingham City Council’s Leaders Annual Policy statement recently – we are in real danger of being left behind. A number of the other cities have established combined authorities and we haven’t and are nowhere near establishing one yet. Thankfully it is an explicit objective of Birmingham City Council in the next year to push ahead with this but there has been precious little public debate on this. Annual Policy Statement 2014
Why does this matter; well recent research by the OECD has shown that:
‘Within countries, cities with fragmented governance structures have lower levels of productivity. For a given population size, a metropolitan area with twice the number of municipalities is associated with around 6% lower productivity, an effect that is mitigated by almost half when a governance body at the metropolitan level exists.’
So to relate this to Birmingham; we have a fragmented and confusing governance structure in our metropolitan area – whatever we wish to call it – and this is probably holding back our economy significantly.
So this means jobs and living standards (and other matters) are being sacrificed because we can’t work together.
Lets hope Birmingham City Council can push this agenda but we need as well a public debate on this; we need public events to talk about its imperative. Petty minded local rivalries must be set aside, as they are largely in Manchester and elsewhere for the benefit of us all.
My rant for the day is over – but I leave you with a question – is anyone willing to host a session to start this discussion. One of our Universities? One of our LEPs? ……