At the end of October, a City Growth Commission – supported by Core Cities – was launched by the Royal Society (see video), aimed at recommending policies to boost economic growth and offer ideas for political parties to consider as part of their plans for the post-2015 government.
Manchester-born economist Jim O’Neill, its chair, is the retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Group. Business Desk reports at length that CGC is to develop a practical plan for enabling cities to succeed in the global race for urban growth.
He notes in the Financial Times that many ‘successful’ countries – he lists China, Germany and the US – have a number of vibrant cities but the UK is dominated by London. Research he values finds that cities are at the centre of their countries’ economic fortunes and his yardstick for success appears to be the amount of building taking place – he feels encouraged by an 89% increase in building outside London.
Previous ideas to stimulate regional economic growth – special incentives for business and advantageous tax rates – are set aside in favour of other policies, including:
- improved infrastructure – though not planning to take a stance on the merits of the High Speed 2 north-south rail link
- ominously – labour market flexibility,
- better education (as in London)
- and greater involvement of local citizens – a nod to localism?
Part of CGC’s research will look at the pros and cons of giving core cities powers to determine and activate their own funding needs for growth through financing initiatives such as local authority bond issuance.
Signs of change include calls for substantial devolution, and the government’s “city deals”, beginning to deliver more freedom for cities.
In the FT today, James Skinner, chairman emeritus of the New Economics Foundation, asks fundamentally important questions about a stance often adopted by politicians with an interest in supporting multinational business.
He was prompted to do so by a recent FT editorial “A better plan for London airports”, which cited the fact that Schiphol offers more flights to China than Heathrow as an example of “Britain falling behind in the global race”. He asks:
- But what exactly is this “global race”?
- Where is the finishing line?
- What is the prize we are competing for?
- Are we really so desperately anxious that more and more people should come to London to change aeroplanes?
- What do we get in exchange for the noise and air pollution from increasing air traffic?
- What compensation is there for further loss of land to the hideous sprawl of airports?
- Are we sure that extrapolations of growth in air travel are realistic anyway, given that oil prices will rise and alternative fuels are not yet in sight?
He concludes that there are many more beneficial ways to invest the vast sums needed to build a mega-airport.
High Speed 2: comment received from local sustainable energy and transport consultant
“I think that the Chambers of Commerce etc, who are backing HS2 are assuming that it will be the taxpayers who pay for this.
“They are expecting a ‘free ride’. If a bill was presented to them for the £33 billions they would react very differently.
“Businessmen work on trains anyway, so don’t need to have time savings.
“In fact, the model predicts 70% of journeys will be ‘leisure’, i.e. going to London for shopping or to see a show (better off only).
“The transport need is an alternative to the car for local journeys and that means investment in local rail, bus or tram, rather than intercity.”
Birmingham’s desire to become the capital of community action on climate change will be furthered by taking this advice.