A City Growth Commission, chaired by Jim O’Neil, former chair of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, has been launched today to consider how Britain’s cities outside London can contribute more to economic growth in the future.
Mr O’Neil, writing in the Financial Times points out that the London plays a more dominant role in the economy than the capital cities of other countries. The Commission will consider how other cities can raise their game and pack more of an economic punch.
The Commission is just starting its work and will report in about nine months but already Mr O’Neil has signalled an interest in what economists call the supply side rather than only on traditional regeneration policies. By that Mr O’Neil means making sure education is improved, that cities make the most of their universities and that people are equipped for today’s labour market. After all, if new jobs come and local people are not equipped to do them, then the opportunities will go elsewhere.
He is surely right in his emphasis on the importance of skills when it comes to opportunity. In The Economist’s recent piece on small cities it pointed out that 22% of adults in Wolverhampton had no qualifications compared to 9% nationally. Any city that does not take a striking statistic like that seriously is unlikely to prosper in the future. Educational attainment needs to rise and cities should have a passion for high ambition and high achievement at the heart of their mission.
Other commentators on cities such as Toronto based academic Richard Florida have emphasised quality of life factors and the physical environment as being important things in a city’s economy. What is the city like as a place to live? How strong is its cultural offering? Is it a good place to go for a day out, a night out or a weekend away? It is easier for bigger cities to have a strong cultural offering than smaller places but cities which ignore this will be losing out on visitors and revenue.
Closer to home, anyone looking at the approaches to Wolverhampton – the city’s train station, the burned out garages on Willenhall Road or some other approaches to the city knows we need to do better on first impressions. The physical environment matters as does the cultural offer.
With heavy public sector cuts the job of councils is not getting any easier. Scarce resources are being more thinly spread and cities will have to reassess what it is possible for their local authorities to do. In this respect rebalancing is not just about place but about public and private sectors too. This changing dynamic makes the work of this City Growth Commission timely.
The Commission launched today is backed by the eight “core cities” outside London but I hope it does not just concentrate on our biggest urban centres. The role of smaller cities is crucial too and merits serious thinking. I hope Mr O’Neil interprets his mandate broadly.