Final Report - Unleashing Growth


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A new global picture of growth is taking shape. This is not about a transfer of economic power from North to South, or West to East. It is about the rise of cities, the concentration of productivity, innovation and creativity that will drive our economic future. This, the final report of the RSA City Growth Commission, is the culmination of a 12-month inquiry on what the rise of cities means for the UK political economy.

Internationally, growth is increasingly driven by cities. But very few in the UK are at the forefront of the nation’s economy and all are overly dependent on top-down funding. It is clear that our centralised political economy is not fit for purpose. 

UK cities compete within a global economy, in which the drivers of urbanisation and connectivity are evolving together, and fast. Rapid changes in transportation and communication networks expose UK cities to both economic opportunities and risks. Concentrated demand for, and supply of, skilled labour means that many of the challenges of an increasingly integrated global economy will play out in our cities.

Chaired by economist Jim O’Neill, with nine other individuals drawn from academia, business and government, the Commission has considered how we can drive up the UK’s long-term trend rate of economic growth. The Commission has focused largely on supply-side measures, including transport
connectivity, skills and enterprise. 

Throughout the course of the Commission’s inquiry, the drumbeat of devolution has grown ever louder. Leading the charge was the possibility of Scottish independence and now the transition to a new devo max settlement, following the ‘no’ vote on 18 September 2014. Relatively under the radar, but no less persistent, were growing calls for a significant shift in power away from Ministers and officials in central government to cities. City Deals, Growth Deals and Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned, report have set the course, but the challenge is to now a achieve a step change in devolution.

Over recent months, the importance of cities in driving growth and prosperity has been increasingly recognised, rising up the political agenda to the highest levels. Two speeches from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a commitment from the Leader of the Opposition that he would “champion
devolution” in government and the Northern Futures campaign from the Deputy Prime Minister have set a new political tone.

In the wake of the Scottish referendum debate and with the political parties looking ahead to May 2015, several of the Commission’s initial recommendations have already been taken up in Government and Opposition thinking, particularly the importance of connectivity between and agglomeration of northern cities; strengthening the links between higher education and metro growth; and, the need for fiscal devolution to those cities able to shoulder a genuine transfer of risk. This has both encouraged the Commission and heightened our ambition for city growth in the UK. For the sake of longer-term economic growth and national prosperity, we need to capitalise on this opportunity for change.

Focusing on the potential of the largest 15 ‘metros’ (with city centres, suburbs and surrounding areas of over 500,000 residents),1 the City Growth Commission argues that a reconfiguration of our political economy is needed with cityregions at its heart. This report explains why and how it can be achieved. Note that, as with our previous reports, the terms ‘city’, ‘city-region’ and ‘metro’ are used interchangeably.