Britain’s metro mayors should be given greater powers over housing, schools and jobs to truly transform our cities and drive the economy, a new report from former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has concluded.
Lord Heseltine’s report Empowering English Cities, commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and backed by the UK’s six Metro Mayors, sets out a series of proposals to boost city regions and devolve further funding and powers from Government.
In 2012 Lord Heseltine’s report No Stone Unturned laid the foundations for the Government’s devolution policy, which led to the setting up of combined authorities and elections of the first six Metro Mayors in 2017.
His latest report was compiled following interviews with mayors of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England and West Midlands. It concludes that while there was great progress early on, this has now stalled in recent years with national political attention focussed on Brexit.
He sets out the case for greater devolution arguing: “We must start with our great cities, the engines of our growth, the rocks upon which our prosperity stands.”
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “Devolution has led to billions of pounds of investment and new powers handed down to the region, meaning we are not consumed by the Brexit logjam of Westminster and can carry on delivering for our regions.
“This new report shows how the next Prime Minister can continue the hard work done by Lord Heseltine and others to really empower city regions in England. I wholeheartedly support the recommendations.”
Lord Heseltine’s radical proposals talk about embedding the role of cites in Government while moving funding, powers and staff away from Whitehall to the regions.
He argues cities are better placed to answer the challenges of new technology, low skills and poor infrastructure.
He said: “There is no single solution to tackling these economic challenges. If our great city-regions are once again to become the engines of economic growth for our country, it will require long term and enduring partnership work between the private sector and all levels of government, ensuring that city-regions have a good supply of skilled labour; are well connected; have land available for homes and employment; have rich, innovation ecosystems, often built around a university; and have an attractive cultural offer for their communities.”
Crucially, the report concludes combined authorities should take on responsibility for affordable housing, school performance and employment training.
Lord Heseltine argues that city-regions like the West Midlands also need greater money raising powers – such as taking the locally raised slice of the road tax to fund transport infrastructure.
There are 20 proposals which include:
- Government to transfer day-to-day responsibility for affordable housing, school performance, skills and employment programmes to combined authorities
- Mayoral combined authorities to have greater powers to raise local taxes – including receiving the local road tax, airport passenger duty and tourism taxes
- More capital funding for transport, skills and housing to be devolved from Government departments
- New Government Department for the English Regions led by a Cabinet minister and a Metro Mayors committee chaired by the Prime Minister
The West Midlands Combined Authority has a complex geography covering not only the seven metropolitan authorities of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, but also three Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils from the wider region who sit as non-constituent members.
Since foundation the combined authority has secured devolved resources in excess of £2 billion for the region. This includes the investment fund worth £36 million per year, transport grant of £17.6 million per year and the £126 million adult education budget.
Key investments include the extension of the West Midlands Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, Coventry City Centre regeneration scheme, the Solihull HS2 Interchange, grant towards the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village at Perry Barr, the town centre programme to regenerate and renew district centres, and the UK’s first 5G Testbed.