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Liberal Democrat News 16th December 2011

December 16, 2011 10:34 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Power to the cities

The Deputy Prime Minister announced last week a dramatic shift in power from Whitehall to the core cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield. In a speech to IPPR North in Leeds, Nick Clegg gave details of the proposed plan.

The 'City Deals' will see government offer greater freedom and autonomy. In return, cities must guarantee that they will provide adequate leadership and accountability, improve efficiency and be innovative in their approach.

No more waiting for Whitehall approval, cities will get one consolidated capital pot to direct as they see fit. The Coalition has committed to localising business rates and introducing Tax Increment Financing to allow councils to borrow against those revenues to invest in development. The bulk of business rates should be back in local hands by April 2013.

Cities will also get the right to offer business rate discounts. So, for example, if a particular city would benefit from more creative industries, to compete with its neighbours, or to make the most of its colleges and universities, it will be able to adjust its rates to attract companies working in design, fashion, music, the arts.

On transport, under the new arrangements cities will only have to show that a specific scheme is feasible, achieves value for money, is transparent and accountable, and contributes to growth. Cities will be able to be ambitious about what they can deliver for their area. Instead of Transport for London, it could be Transport for Leeds or Birmingham, or Bristol.

Housing and regeneration decisions that used to lie with Regional Development Agencies and were then sucked up into the Homes and Community Agency will finally be will be handed down to the cities. Cities can then get developers building and businesses locating in the parts of town that need them most.

On broadband, £100m of seed funding will be available for them to work with Virgin, BT and other suppliers, in order to become truly digital.

Currently many small companies say they would like to take on an apprentice but they can't afford it or they find the national scheme too bureaucratic. Cities will be able to create New Apprenticeship Hubs, bringing together businesses looking for an apprentice and Colleges who can refer their students. There will be research funding to establish where skills gaps lie - whether in engineering, or IT, or management, - so cities can work with the colleges to prioritise filling those gaps.

Cities will also be able to bring local services together so that instead of being passed from pillar to post between the job centre, the town hall, the careers adviser - all of that can be done under one roof where it makes sense to do so.

"We are launching a series of deals to recast the relationship between central government and our cities," said Nick, "in what we hope will be an unprecedented transfer of power, to unleash city power, to boost entire regions and to get our national economy growing. To begin correcting the dangerous imbalance in the economy.
"Our cities will need to shoulder some of the risks - where big projects are involved, for example, government will not do all the underwriting. We will expect you to work together and we will need to see results.
"The Coalition wants to give cities the key to their future," concluded Nick. "We know the UK's prosperity depends on it and we stand ready to do our bit."

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