Headlines: March 8th, 2006

Local leadership has been crucial to the recovery of many English cities, according to a new report which says the cities are better placed than they have been for more than a century to join the top performing places in Europe. “State of the English Cities” has been produced for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by a group of experts led by Professor Michael Parkinson.Sir Michael said national economic success and considerable public spending have been major factors in the improvements in cities but he added, “Local leaders have been crucial to the recovery of many cities. We should provide more powers and resources to our cities so they keep the good work going. The prize is great and we should seize it.”

In its response to the report the Local Government Association says it should act as a blueprint for devolution. Cllr Chris White, Chair of the LGA’s Regeneration Board, said cities performed better when local leaders had greater power to take decisions and to innovate but he called for any new powers to be made available to councils in all areas and not just in big cities. Mayors, he said, should be introduced only if people wanted them.

Councillor White was also concerned that cities in the North and West of England were still lagging behind. “The best way to turn this around is for the government to loosen the reins and place more trust in councils. More freedoms from regional bureaucratic quangos, more powers over transport, employment and skills and provisions to raise and spend more money locally are all necessary and needed,” he said.

The ODPM said the report was the most comprehensive study of England’s cities and towns, their performance, the challenges they are facing and their potential. The study focused on 56 major places and found that they were recovering after years of decline. The report says that since 1997, sustained economic growth combined with rising public investment and strong local leadership are helping to make cities successful places to live, work and enjoy once again.

The Government will use evidence from the report to take forward work designed to strengthen the urban renaissance, in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review for 2007. The ODPM said it was already working with a range of cities across the country, helping them to develop “business cases” to deliver a step change in their economic, social and cultural performance. A second round of City Summits that will include smaller urban areas will take place between now and May.

It has also been announced that the third Sustainable Communities Summit will be held in Manchester, next February and will focus on the role of cities in the global economy.