Headlines: June 28th, 2006

Ruth Kelly, Minister for Communities and Local Government, has called for a central, local government partnership to create city regions to support economic and cultural growth. The Minister wants a further strengthening in local leadership and the creation of structures and ways of working that look forward.An urban explosion is the great motivator for change. In 1925, one quarter of the world’s population lived in cities. In 2025, it will be three-quarters. By that date, 17 of the world’s 25 largest cities will be in coastal regions in Asia. Today cities succeed by offering proximity to people and their ideas and by strong leadership. City leadership is crucial in developing economic strategies that reflect the reality of the economic challenge. Many challenges cut across local authority areas, suggesting that some key decisions need to be taken across the city-region.

Ruth Kelly cited London as an example of how devolution can work with improvements such as the congestion charge, better buses, neighbourhood policing and the successful Olympic bid. These achievements, she argued have resulted from more local power. There are many areas of policy where stronger co-ordination and governance help cities to become dynamic areas of growth. These include skills and employment and better integration between housing, planning and regeneration. Transport also is particularly important because it is the key to unlocking economic potential. The Minister stressed that achieving this vision will require leadership and commitment at all levels.

The Local Government Association supports the elements of the vision concerned with the devolution of power, but is unenthusiastic about city mayors. Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “What we call our leaders isn’t the main issue, what matters is the powers that they have and that they are visible and accountable. Local government is up for this challenge. There needs to be a devolution of power, together with a genuine shift in responsibility and accountability from government ministers to local authority leaders.”