Key Cities Set Out Bold Devolution Vision For English Cities

Key Cities – a group representing the interests of 24 of England’s ‘mid-sized’ cities – has today called on all political parties to live up to their rhetoric and commit to a bold devolution charter.

Whichever party or parties go on to form the next Government, Key Cities argues that they must do more to empower cities to stimulate growth, create jobs and deliver a better return not just for their residents but for the whole country. 

In the Key Cities Charter for Devolution the group calls for English cities to be provided with ‘single-city budgets’ with all public funding for their city pooled into one block with funding fixed for a five-year period. City leaders would then be free to allocate funds without interference from Whitehall red tape. 

The majority of cities outside of London are currently handicapped by local government funding arrangements. Whitehall still directly determines almost 60 per cent of local government budgets and national rules and regulations mean there are central government controls over much of the remaining 40 per cent. 

By removing these restrictions and by pooling all funding streams into one block, city leaders will be able to stimulate jobs and growth while also improving lives for their residents. 

Councillor Paul Watson, Chair of the Key Cities Group, and Leader of Sunderland City Council said: 

“All of the political parties talk a good game around both devolution and economic growth outside of London. At Key Cities, we’ve taken their rhetoric and made sense of it for 23 cities covering the length and breadth of the country, creating a test bed for innovative and ambitious policy. 

“Despite all the rhetoric, we have not seen any devolution to our cities. Without devolution, we can’t deliver the growth we need –not just in our cities but also for the country as a whole. 

“Whichever party goes on to form the next government has an opportunity to fix this, embrace devolution, empower our Key Cities and stimulate growth across the country.” 

The Charter also sets out five key areas of priority for devolution which provide the basic building blocks for successful city management: 

Give Key Cities greater commissioning powers in skills

This will enable local flexibility in skills provision, which will provide a better targeting of resources, stronger partnership building and more innovation. 

Extension of Whole Place Community Budgets to Key Cities

The co-ordination of funding in specific policy areas can bring about large efficiency savings and help to improve public services. In a time of austerity and increasing pressures on adult social care budgets; new and innovative ways of public service delivery are required to maintain frontline services. 

The next government should build on the Total Place and Whole Place Community Budget pilots by running similar schemes focused on welfare to work spending in Key Cities. 

Give Key Cities extra powers to regulate buses

Buses are the most popular means of public transport, and play a crucial role in the economy by linking residents to jobs.  Unfortunately unregulated bus companies do not always serve the public interest by providing a link between people's homes and potential jobs. 

Key Cities, in conjunction with our surrounding authorities, should be given powers to re-regulate bus services in our cities, allowing us to set the bus routes and tender with companies on a franchise basis. 

Establish a Single Property Board in each Key City

Many public sector assets are underutilized and are owned by many different public sector bodies in Key Cities. Building on the approach taken by One Public Estate, which is currently in trial phase, bringing together assets owned by local and central government would allow cities to either put them to productive use or to put them into a financial vehicle to leverage private sector funding. Both approaches would help support investment and economic growth. 

Give Key Cities the freedom to implement local taxes

Local authorities in England are very constrained in the way that they can generate their own income. Key Cities should work with Government to trial the implementation of local taxes to help offset this, of which an example could be a local sales tax, both of which operate in US cities (and have been voted in via referenda in many cases). All funds would be retained within the city, but the introduction of any tax on business would have to receive a majority yes vote in a referendum of local businesses.

To download the Key Cities Charter for Devolution, Click Here