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Let us shape our own destinies…

June 11, 2014

UK cities have led economic growth for more than 200 years, creating public services and driving social change. They have helped to invent the modern world.

Newcastle’s industrial pioneers and social reformers have shaped our roads, our railways, education, policing, and water, and tackled some of the great injustices – slum housing, hunger and disease.

In many ways city-led growth is happening now. Newcastle has struck a deal with Government that allows us to borrow to fund development which will generate additional business rates that enables us to pay the loan back. In reality it’s investing £92m in our long term economic future to generate a £1billion return over 25 years. We have earned investment in the marine and offshore sector, with the potential to create 8,000 jobs. And, our Youth Contract Pathfinder is developing locally-shaped solutions to support 16-17 year olds into employment, education or training. Forty seven per cent of those on our local programme have progressed into employment or training, compared to just 27.5 per cent nationally, proving that some things are best done at a local level.

So, we are not seeking to convince Government that cities can be a major driver for growth – that is proven. Nor are we asking permission. Growth and innovation are the role of cities up and down the country. Instead, we are inviting Government to work in partnership with City Government to deliver more and quicker. We want more powers so we can compete on a global stage and ensure UK cities are powerhouses of growth and innovation.

So what difference will this make to people’s lives? It will help us provide better infrastructure, housing, employment, skills and support for businesses, along with a single framework for skills co-ordination, devolved budgets and better co-ordination of education providers; reducing duplication, saving money, getting more people into work and matching employment programmes to the needs of the labour market.

We also need greater financial freedoms, greater devolution of taxes, allowing us to retain a greater share of our growth proceeds for local reinvestment over a longer period of time. We are working with other Core Cities to make the case for shifting tax revenues away from Whitehall and into local communities.

As Cabinet Member for Public Sector Reform on the Core Cities Group, I am exploring opportunities for improving the wellbeing of our communities through joined up services. We want a place-based approach, integrating knowledge, management and delivery of services at all levels. This should be accompanied by shared accountability for public resources, integrating funding regimes with Government and personalised services that target support at the most disadvantaged.

Our North East Combined Authority is an example of stronger governance structures taking responsibility for strategic transport, economic development, jobs and skills. NECA will ensure that institutions work better together, improving transparency to aid private sector investment and decision making.

We need clearer lines of communication between local leaders and Government ministers; public service reform and a rethink on how public funds are spent; greater freedoms from Government restraints and more self-sufficiency at a local level to enable cities to plan for, and deliver, long term financial stability.

Our vision for economic growth goes hand in hand with wider public service reform. Investing in tackling inequalities and reducing complex dependency are vital to fulfilling our cities’ economic potential. Our predecessors in the 19th and 20th centuries knew it. We know it. So let’s get on and do it.

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