Coalition Urban Policies
Unlocking growth cities and city deals
An early indication of the Coalition Government's policies towards cities can be found in the paper by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Cities. The government's job, they claimed, was to 'unlock their full potential through a major shift in the powers available to local leaders and businesses to drive economic growth and boost entire regions' (Clegg and Clark, 2011). They rejected what they called 'a one-size-fits-all model' in favour of 'individual city deals' with each city administration, which are 'binding agreements which enable cities to negotiate the devolution of the specific powers, resources and responsibilities required to meet locally-determined economic and social objectives' (Clegg and Clark, 2011). Each deal is different, but cities were told that powers could include tax increment financing, management of local transport – including some devolved transport budgets – and control of a 'skills' budget and apprenticeships. As one of our respondents described it: 'Within [Unlocking City Growth] there is the menu … under which cities can open up a dialogue with Government departments in areas where policy, officials and Ministers can say we are willing to consider greater responsibility, flexibility, etc … The Deals are supposed to be very, very different. They are supposed to be about the City identifying its priorities and working out why can't it achieve those and what if anything Government is holding back' (civil servant with regional responsibilities).
The report raised various possibilities, including city control over a single pot of capital money, control or at least influence over investment in transport development and even the possibility of obtaining Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) resources. This did look like devolved budgets following devolved powers and was generally welcomed, at least by the cities. 'The idea of City regions made sense. It did. Not enough of our cities can marshal the forces of
their outlying suburbs' (Local Authority Economic Developer). However, since each 'Deal' is different, there is no consistency of approach between cities. So, the strategy is that each core city will deliver them either through a CCA or through a series of partnerships supervised by an overseeing Board consisting of the CCA itself plus the executives of the key partners.
It received mixed reactions initially. Not surprisingly, the Core Cities Group (Core Cities website, 2011) received it approvingly, hoping they would be the first ones to benefit. However, others were more sceptical. Marlow (2012) argues that the overall impression in the report is 'of a government which doesn't really know what to do on sub-national development, throwing together a portfolio of ad hoc incentives most of which are available to all, finding a willing group to work with, rolling out the “one size doesn't fit all” truism, and then congratulating themselves on a radical transformational approach'. His argument is that the core cities are actually underfunded by government and, with the exception of Bristol, are underperforming. It is also correct that such powers are potentially available much more widely. Clark (2011) went on to suggest that this first tranche was intended as something of a pilot which, if successful, the government would 'consider the case for extending the city deal process to other communities in due course and in fact it has been extended.' On 29 October 2012 the Deputy Prime Minister announced a further round of city deals with 20 additional cities, these being the next largest ones plus those which are fastest growing (Clegg, 2012). There were also separate plans for Wales (Watkins, 2013). Then in January 2013, the first meeting took place of the Cabinet of Core Cities, consisting of the eight Core Cities, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Cities (Core Cities website: Core Cities Cabinet).