New powers to breathe life into England’s cities

Ministers set to unveil ‘unprecedented’ devolution of power to England’s cities

Ministers will announce an “un precedented” devolution of power from Whitehall next week in an attempt to usher in a renaissance in England’s major cities and reinvigorate the government’s localism agenda.

Greg Clark, the minister for cities, is expected to reveal details of the deals he has struck to give extra powers to eight of England’s largest cities. The move is also an attempt to rescue the coalition’s drive for more localism, dismissed by some as incoherent, after the disappointment of the mayoral referendums, when nine cities voted against the proposals. Powers will include control over the welfare system, minor crime, youth unemployment and local transport.

The Observer understands that Clark, a Tory MP, is about to sign off on the creation of a new Leeds city-region super-authority. It will take control of a £1bn transport fund from Whitehall along with a £220m investment pot to revitalise local business.It will also have control over the train service. In return, the Observer believes that the city has pledged to turn Leeds into an area where no young person is a Neet (“not in employment, education or training”).

By handing local politicians in Leeds extra money, ministers expect they will be able to attract further funds from businesses in the area.

In a separate deal, Birmingham is expected to receive control over a £1.5bn investment fund to allow it to pursue its goal of becoming a world centre for life sciences. The city intends to build a £25m medical research centre, called the Institute of Translational Medicine, creating more than 2,000 jobs. It also wants to establish a programme to create 3,500 apprenticeships by 2015 in response to the skills shortage blighting the area, where 16% of working-age people have no formal qualifications.

The announcements will come after months of negotiation between Clark and representatives from some of England’s biggest cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Newcastle and Nottingham, who are estimated to be responsible for 27% of the UK’s economic output – more than London. The agenda was outlined in the coalition’s first year and was fleshed out in December, but it is understood ministers have struggled to win over senior civil servants in Whitehall who have had misgivings about the scale of the proposals.Critics were handed further ammunition when the goal of establishing elected “Boris-style” mayors across Britain was thwarted after voters in nine English cities rejected the idea by referendum.

Turn-out was also low for the votes with less than one in four voting at all in Manchester and Nottingham.

However Leicester, Liverpool and Salford city councils are now run by mayors, and Bristol is set to join them in November.

Clark, a Tory MP, told a recent local government conference: “Sometimes change comes step by step through demonstration rather than revolution. Those four cities will prosper and be examples of what can be achieved and others will watch with great interest and will have a chance to join them in the future, either with city mayors or metro mayors.”

Meanwhile, communities minister Andrew Stunell told the Observer that he intended to push on with Liberal Democrat plans for localism, including more pilots of local “community” panels who bring the victims and perpetrators of minor crime together.

In Somerset, where the first panel was established, over the total of 875 cases processed to date, recidivism rates have been just 3-5%. Stunell said: “This is localism mark two. There are a lot of us who don’t think this process has gone fast enough”.


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