Last night I attended a fascinating lecture at the University of Liverpool by Professor Michael Parkinson. His talk was titled City Regions in the UK; Policies, Performance and Prospects, a subject which seems highly topical at the moment.
Professor Parkinson looked at the contrasting fortunes of the UK’s city regions over the last two decades, how they compare with city regions in Europe and what we need to do to make sure that they perform better in the future.
There is considerable concern in some cities, not least in Liverpool, that Manchester is stealing a march on everyone else with the so called Devo Manc process. Just last week the Government announced that it was devolving a £6 billion health budget to the Manchester city region.
Most devolution so far from Westminster has involved the transfer of decision making rather than of financial powers. Professor Parkinson argued convincingly that city regions need fiscal devolution if they are to be free to make their own choices.
A couple of thoughts occur to me on this. Firstly, in my experience of working with local authorities I can’t help notice that many of them continue to devote considerable resources to community development. While that’s understandable, I feel that more success might be achieved by working at a regional level rather than at neighbourhood level. England’s somewhat outdated local authority boundaries don’t help in this regard.
Secondly, if city regions are going to work then local people need to be persuaded to buy into them. To take Liverpool City Region as an example, it will only succeed if people in diverse towns such as Southport and St Helens engage with it and feel part of it. Manchester’s success owes a lot to the fact that it has put a lot of effort into addressing this issue.
From a communications point of view, I feel that each city region needs a civic pride campaign in order to make everyone feel part of the process.