Rebalance, reform and renewal at the core of devolution – Nick Forbes speech to the Core Cities Cabinet
Today we come together as Core City leaders and mayors to set out a vision of how we can make our country a better, fairer and more successful place. Today we launch our Devolution Declaration.
We’ll talk this morning not just about what we want from the new Government but what we can offer. The difference we can make to our country together.
You will hear today about our version of the ‘three rs’ – rebalance, reform and renewal.
The UK is one of the most centralised states in the world. Canada for example, holds ten times more tax receipts at a local level than the UK, Germany six times.
This has made the UK the country in Europe with the greatest regional economic disparity.
It’s not good for regions, for cities, for our residents or the country. Now is the time to do more.
Today we’ll set out how we can rebalance and grow our economy to create more jobs and eliminate the deficit, reform public services to improve outcomes and renew democracy.
You’ll also hear from a variety of experts from think tanks and academia that will set out some of the key challenges facing the city devolution agenda. As a Vice-Chair of Core Cities UK, I am proud of the role we have played in the great debate about the future of our country.
We have helped turn the UK’s cities from a problem to an opportunity, from a peripheral element in the debate about devolution, to a fundamental element of the solution.
And, while Westminster debates, local communities take action. In every one of the Core Cities, new partnerships are being created – between authorities, between the public and private sectors, and above all within communities.
The Devolution Declaration is our vision of a modern state for a stronger Britain.
But we’re also clear that devolution isn’t just about grand constitutional settlements. It’s about people.
It’s about finding better solutions for the citizens who struggle to make sense of the support available to them from a myriad of centrally-directed agencies and departments.
It’s about the business that wants to recruit skilled labour from their local communities.
It’s about finding a solution to the big public service challenges which face our communities – from the crisis in health and social care, to the need to improve bus services, to support for people suffering from poor mental health.
It’s about reducing poverty, addressing the deep seated inequalities in health, wealth and wellbeing which blight our communities.
The challenge is nothing less than the creation of a modern state – fit for today’s local and global challenges. A state that works for people not against them.
As people grow increasingly distant from Westminster politics and distrustful of politicians of all parties, they are more keen than ever on local solutions.
The last five years have seen unparalleled cuts to public services. More has been cut from local government than central government. More has been cut from the cities than from other, more prosperous areas. We’ve been forced into false economies which cut one part of the public sector – only to see higher costs emerge in other services.
As core city leaders we have fronted–up some of the most damaging implications, explained them to our communities, and won their support for radical reforms.
This experience tells us that a crisis in public services can only to averted through radical new approaches, delivered locally. Devolution is not just a constitutional issues – it’s a necessity if we’re to deliver the “bolder, better, braver” approach to public services, the only solution we have to continued austerity.
There’s increasing evidence that a place-based approach to spending and budgeting can save money, create a smarter state and improve outcomes.
We saw progress under the last Government. As well as the much heralded, Northern Powerhouse, the last few months of the coalition administration saw Manchester’s local authorities given control over their NHS budgets, a host of city deals and a massive change of policy direction on bus re-regulation.
The period at the start of any new government creates a window for long-term thinking. We need to move from sporadic and piecemeal devolution of short-term, inefficient funding, towards a more fundamental transfer of long-term responsibility for our local economies – rebalancing, reforming and renewing Britain through action in our cities, our communities.
The new man at the top of DCLG, Greg Clark has built a credible relationship with the core cities, through the deals we’ve done so far. While our politics differ, we know him as an honest and principled support of devolution.
Without him the modest steps we have already taken would not have been possible. In my home city, I can show you the jobs and investment that have createdas a result of the deal that Greg and I did for Newcastle.
His appointment creates an opportunity to re-set the relationship between central and local government. The core cities will be constructive partners in that process – pathfinders for a new national settlement to rebalance power and rekindle our democracy. So – in our focus on rebalance, reform and renewal – we as core cities are stepping up demonstrate our commitment to a fourth “r” word: responsibility.
Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already made encouraging noises on city devolution. Earlier this week during a visit to Stockton, the PM talked about the need to ‘driver power’ out of London to the regions.
And as well as getting its own minister, Northern Powerhouse was also mentioned in George Osbourne’s acceptance speech on election night.
But we need more than warm words. Today our message to the new government is clear.
Seize this opportunity and commit to work constructively with core cities to create a better future for our country.
Today, March 16, is Devo Day, a chance for all of us to have a conversation about what devolution can achieve in Newcastle and across the North East.
Devolution means giving cities and their regions more freedoms over their own affairs, unfettered by interference by central Government. It also means working to empower local communities to do more for themselves.
It may seem like a bit of a distraction at a time when services are closing and people are losing their jobs, but for me it is the only way we can begin to fully meet the challenge of austerity and build a city that we can all be proud of.
Devolution can be a multi-faceted, complex and dense topic, and not the kind of thing you hear discussed often at bus stops and in pubs. But at its heart is a simple argument. Local decisions about local issues should be taken locally – not 300 miles away in an increasingly remote Whitehall.
Did you know for example, that 95 per cent of the taxes collected in Newcastle – e.g. income tax, business rates, VAT, road tax – go straight to the Government?
Some of that money does come back to us, with strings attached, but we often have to bid for it in competition with other areas. And even Council Tax – the one tax raised and spent locally – is increasingly being spent on priorities determined by national, rather than local, government.
All the evidence from Europe and across the World shows that countries that give their cities more freedoms to grow and spend money raised locally perform better and are more successful. So devolution isn’t a narrow political debating point – the scale of powers and responsibilities we can take on locally will determine how fast we grow our economy, build the houses we need and create the next generation of jobs.
Devolution also gives us the opportunity to ‘join up’ public services making sure that we cut down on duplication and waste. Our Newcastle Supporting Families programme is a trailblazer for this approach, co-ordinating interventions between public agencies and reducing long term costs to the state.
Newcastle and the other ten UK Core Cities have produced a graphic that aims to give you some practical examples of how devolution will make a difference to your life. How it can improve transport, help build more housing and create jobs. You can take a look at it here.
I’d urge you to sign up to the Core Cities’ Modern Charter for Local Freedom.
And I’ll also be talking about the issue via social media throughout the day, using the hashtag #DevoNE on the council’s Twitter account @NewcastleCC.
As thousands of youngsters celebrated ‘good’ A-level and GCSE results across the city last summer, a significant minority didn’t achieve or dropped out of formal education for whatever reason.
According to recent official figures, the city has the highest number of NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) amongst all core cities in the UK. 18 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds are not in further education, employment or training and the picture gets worse when examining the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the city. Recent data leaked indicates that almost 10% of 16 to 18 –year olds are NEETS. Economic analysis reveals that the biggest percentages can be found in Walker, Benwell, Scotswood, Byker, Westgate and South Heaton. In both Walker and Byker, riverside wards of the city, more than 17% are classified as NEETS.
The independent Children’s Board trust implies there’s clearly a ‘’social divide’ when it comes to youngsters taking part in learning and training after the age of 16, a point re-affirmed by lead expert, Professor Robin Simmons and his colleagues at Huddersfield University.
According to the newly published report, the NEET group of youngsters are mainly defined by chaotic lifestyles; family breakdown, poor attendance at school; lower levels of prior educational attainment: learning disabilities; behavioural problems; informal caring duties for disabled parents; youth crime and workless families. In other words, vulnerable young people living in our most deprived communities. According to a recent report by Newcastle’s CSV many of these youngsters, especially living in the Walker area, lack the ‘self-confidence’ to stay on at school or attend college.
Clearly, as the Trust Board rightly points out, there needs to be a ‘’stronger, integrated partnership approach to NEET reduction with key stakeholders ‘’. Put simply, the City Council, secondary schools, academies, the ‘Third Sector’, and Newcastle College need to be working more closely than ever before to tackle the city’s biggest social problem. Most of these youngsters want paid work or get onto a meaningful apprenticeship scheme . This idea of a free market in post-16 education where schools, colleges and other post-16 providers compete against each other for learners is fast becoming discredited and costly according to Professor Simmon’s in his recent book, ‘Education, Work and Social Change’ (2015), and fails to meet the significant number of disaffected young people who want to access the jobs market.
Furthermore, we need more detailed localised empirical research into why many youngsters across the city don’t access training or educational opportunities beyond the age of 16, and more so why a significant minority won’t attend school even at primary level, which clearly restricts their employment ‘life chances’. That’s why Newcastle Councils recent policy decision to establish a Learning Challenge scheme with other partners is to be warmly welcomed. This project is designed to run alongside a North East Local Enterprise Partnership initiative to raise standards and attainment across the region.
The city-wide challenge will be co-ordinated by the Council in partnership with ’’our family of schools, businesses and further and higher education’’. The Council is fully committed on improving results from youngsters who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and reducing the number of NEETS which we all recognise is unacceptably high. There’s a clear need to close the gap in achievement between the most deprived children and their better-off peers, which is particularly evident between key stage two and key stage four. It will run in tandem with the Government backed NELEP plan to raise attainment across the schools and college network. It’s important to ensure that as many young people as possible get on and acquire good vocational and academic qualifications. It’s worth noting that the Ofsted ratings across Newcastle’s schools and college are well above the national average, but not all young adults are benefiting from this improvement. The attainment gap between children who are eligible for free school meals and youngsters who come from better off backgrounds is much higher than the national average. That’s why the Newcastle Learning Challenge’s remit will be to get to the bottom of why this is and what we can all do to solve it.
Over 1,000 learners are following AS/A-level ‘Citizenship Studies’ courses across the country as part of their overall A-level programme, including Newcastle Sixth Form College in the city. This is to be welcomed by all those who want to see a ‘politically educated electorate’ in the second decade of the twentieth-first century.
Numeracy, literacy and information technology (IT) – commonly known as ‘functional skills’ in the further and adult education sector – are all taught in our school sixth forms and further and adult education centres. Yet post-16 courses in Citizenship Studies remain neglected, with the exception of the 250 providers across the UK.
Like fixing a plug or mending a fuse, citizenship education is a ‘life and social skill’ that we all need, irrespective of age, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and ability or attainment.
One crucial aspect of citizenship education is a grasp of political, legal, economic and social processes. For instance, politics is concerned with power in our society. It affects nearly every feature of our lives. Decisions not only have to be taken in national, local and European settings, but also need to be taken within day-to-day social relationships. In essence, this is what politics is all about.
To participate effectively within the various decision-making processes, it’s essential that people are suitably equipped with the relevant civic or political knowledge, skills and confidence.
The last thirty years has seen the rapid development of society with the consequences of more centralised political-decision making, despite devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Centralised power has reduced the ability of citizens to actively influence decision making, let alone understand it. More disturbingly in last decade, a huge chunk of the population feel ‘alienated’ from the democratic process, especially youngsters, adults with learning disabilities or mental health issues, some minority ethnic groups and a section of the white working class. About four out of 10 of those registered to vote in the 2010 general election didn’t bother. Turnout in the 2014 council elections was even lower and only 15 per cent of the region’s electors turned out to vote for the election for a Police and Crime Commissioner in November 2012.
If this is unsettling consider voting among young people. According to Angela Ellam and Peter McBride in their important book, ‘A Councillor View of Modern Local Government’, only 20 per cent of 18 to 21-year olds voted in the 2005 general election, and a derisory one in 10 put a cross on a ballot paper in the last European elections!
Such a degree of ‘apathy’, it’s argued by some, stems from a lack of confidence in elected representatives’ ability to tackle the problems that affect everyday lives – an issue that’s become more acute in light of the revelations concerning the ‘expenses’ scandal amongst some Members of Parliament including M.Ps and members of the House of Lords.
Yet, ignorance about the issues at stake and of people’s own role in implementing change is a major factor in accounting for this ‘disillusionment’.
Citizenship education in the post-compulsory sector can help to create an active and informed electorate. The maintenance of a successful mature democracy is dependent on people exercising a choice between political parties and policies. Civic education can provide an awareness and deeper understanding of the ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ of citizens. It’s essential that people know how to keep and exercise these rights, something which can’t be achieved without an understanding of the democratic and political process.
It’s in post-16 schooling and at college that young adults need to acquire the skills and attitudes which make them better informed about politics, the law, how our economy works, and social issues and their participation in public life. Youngsters need to be able to appreciate and grasp the point of views of others, to present arguments based on ‘empirical’ evidence and to recognise and evaluate bias.
It’s crucial that young people by the age of 19 understand how their local council works, what the various political parties stand for, what a local councillor, M.P, M.E.P or magistrate does and how the British legal and government system operates. Furthermore, they need how to get involved in a local charity through voluntary work such as Oxfam, MIND or Cancer Research. Lessons in citizenship can help combat voter apathy, low levels of civic participation and create a politically aware, literate adult community.
Some policy- makers are sceptical about the role of citizenship in the post-16 curriculum as there’s the danger of dogmatism or bias. Yet history, which is widely taught across state and independent schools across the city can’t possibly avoid value judgements. Bias can’t be eliminated, but it can be recognised. It’s the responsibility of the teacher to maintain professional integrity, to acknowledge and encourage an awareness of a diversity of viewpoints on important civic, economic, legal and equality related issues.
Open, honest bias is often employed in universities to stimulate learners into a reaction; though in secondary or further education it ought to be rejected as some students are not ‘mature’ enough to challenge the views of their tutors and may even accept them as gospel.
Nevertheless academic reports and OFSTED Inspection feedbacks have shown that few problems have arisen from allegations of indoctrination or bias in the teaching of citizenship studies.
In an era of rapid change and declining participation in public affairs together with the Coalition Government’s interest in the ‘Big Society’ and Labour’s renewed commitment to the ‘rights and responsibilities’ agenda, the need for citizenship education in the post 16 educational curriculum could not be greater.
FEBRUARY has been designated as a National Voter Registration month according to the independent Electoral Commission. Although most adults have registered to vote with their local councils, a huge number of our citizens haven’t, including young people who have just turned 18. According to recent figures released by the Commission, there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of youngsters not registered to vote. It’s been estimated that from March to May 2015, the number of 17 to 18 year-olds being placed on the official Electoral Register could be down by 100,000 in contrast to 2014.
In Newcastle, 18,000 people are missing from the register, who are legally entitled to vote in this year’s general and local elections. In the 2010 general election only 44 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 exercised their right to vote. Unless radical action is taken this figure could be much lower, which would be a recipe for disaster for our liberal democracy. Thousands of people across our region have simply vanished from the Electoral Register as every individual is now responsible to register to vote themselves. What’s wrong with the old system we had where households could register their partners and their teenage sons and daughters. In short these reforms could have a big impact in cities and towns like Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough which have high numbers of young people and students.
According to some experts this year’s general election could have a major influence on young people. The outcome could affect education and vocational training at schools, colleges and universities as well as the contentious issue of tuition fees and bursaries, together with the lack of affordable homes and sky high rents. It could have a huge consequence on the number of jobs available in light of soaring youth unemployment, especially up here in the North- East. Newcastle, for instance, has the highest number of NEETS aged 16 to 24. A staggering 18% are neither in work, education or training!
Although electoral registration officers in most local authorities are doing their best to get the missing thousands to register, much more needs to be done to preserve our democratic way of life. The following measures could be adopted to reverse this disturbing trend:
- A legal duty placed on school sixth forms and further education colleges to give details of youngsters approaching 18 to electoral registration officials;
- Encourage local politicians from all parties who are genuinely committed to democracy to address groups of Post-16 learners about the value of voting;
- Encourage universities and colleges to register blocks of students living in halls of residence;
- Place Citizenship Studies at the heart of post-compulsory education;
- Pilot election-day registrations.
And finally, let’s broaden the franchise so that 16 to 18-year olds in England and Wales, like their peers who voted in last summer’s referendum to decide whether Scotland should go it alone or not. Evidence suggests that many young people north of the border were not only registered to vote, but did cast their vote in the ballot box to determine Scotland’s future.
Young people should be allowed to have a say in all UK elections which will determine their futures. That’s why local councils , schools, colleges, universities, youth clubs, politicians and campaign groups need to work together to register young people to vote and make sure they don’t lose their voice. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the next generation.
Today I’ll be joining Cities Minister Greg Clark and the Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University Chris Brink to mark an important milestone in the regeneration of our city.
The formal opening of the Science Central site that stretches from St James’s Park to the West End of the city is the result of a ten year partnership between the City Council, the University and the Government.
Without council and its partners matching ambition with cash and commitment, the creation of one of Europe’s largest city centre development opportunities would never have happened.
It will be good to welcome Greg Clark back to Newcastle, because through him the Council was able to secure an ambitious City Deal which helped us to unlock £92 million of investment across Newcastle and Gateshead. This deal allows us to fund development of sites like Science Central, and others across our Accelerated Development Zone, using the additional business rates generated from the investment to pay back the borrowing.
It is a strategy based on being prepared to take prudent risks to make our vision for the city a reality. Success depends on us now attracting the major investors we need to locate on the site, which we are working hard to do. But Newcastle is a much more attractive proposition to potential investors with several acres of prime city centre real estate to offer, rather than a derelict brewery site sitting on a maze of unstable mine workings.
People may ask how I can talk of investing in the city in one breath, whilst arguing about cuts to council services in the other. But these issues are not incompatible. Government cuts impact on the Council’s revenue budget which funds day to day services. But the council’s ability to borrow to support capital investment in the infrastructure, highways and homes which create the conditions for business to grow are not affected – provided we can show that our investments are based on a sound business case which generates a good return for the city. Throughout the economic downturn we have sustained our ambitious plans to support the city’s economic future – because ambition, vision and a commitment to make things happen are what great cities need to thrive.
The unique partnership between the City Council and Newcastle University has been central to our approach. It allows us benefit from the university’s global expertise, and focus delivery around its research strengths, allowing the council to invest in the city long term, to create the jobs and economic growth. This is precisely what we’re trying to achieve on Science Central.
The site will combine cutting edge architecture with new public spaces, new family homes and apartment living, world-renowned scientific expertise and leading edge companies, all working together to maximise social, economic and environmental benefits. Supported by the partnership, Science Central will be a hub for innovation, creating a lasting legacy of for the North East.
At the heart of the Science Central development the first building on the site, the Core, is a symbol of Newcastle’s bright future. Built and entirely owned by the council, space in the building was 90% pre-let before the doors opened. Companies genuinely want to be a part of a vibrant emerging business community. The crossover between new technologies and how they can help meet future challenges that cities face is clearly interesting to a host of exciting new businesses.
Newcastle University itself is also investing in Science Central, and has unveiled its plans for a £58 million Urban Sciences Building, which will house their world-class School of Computing Science, putting Science Central at the forefront of urban innovation.
The prestigious Future Cities Catapult recently recognised Science Central as an exemplar of how to address the future challenges of growing cities, through urban innovation. Interest in the site is growing, with the scheme attracting positive attention by investors and businesses from across the world.
From its days as the booming Elswick Colliery – to its time as the home to the Scottish and Newcastle brewery – this site has always been a place where innovation, industry and community grew side-by-side.
And it is this inspiring legacy of energy and innovation which has been adopted by the partnership. This is the core to our success. We’ve kept our ambitions for this site alive through a damaging recession. And when the government abolished the Regional Development Agency and its funding in 2010, it was the strength and commitment of the partnership between the council and Newcastle University that allowed Science Central to proceed, by buying out the government’s stake. By working together our partnership has grasped with both hands the opportunity to create an exciting environment for the businesses of the future.
Opportunities to invest in Newcastle have never been better.
Investments made by the council and its partners are now being delivered, and the city’s skyline is changing. We are seeing exciting new developments at Central Station and the Stephenson Quarter, and on the North Bank of the Tyne. Investors are bringing new jobs, recognising that Newcastle is a great place to locate and grow a business.
The council’s programme of renewal and reinvention is delivering the biggest transformation of the city’s infrastructure in a generation. We are improving national and international transport links. We are making our city centre easier to get around on foot and by bike. We are putting in place the superfast broadband connections that today’s businesses need to connect to their markets. We are building new homes across the city, creating new communities for our growing population. And we are creating new business districts, which will attract international investors and create thousands of new jobs.
Science Central is a site that reflects important aspects of Newcastle’s past, it is creating vital new jobs in the present, and it will be an essential part of a bright economic future. I am proud to lead a council which is prepared to invest today for a better tomorrow.