City Deals and a Possible Mayor
Last Sunday I chaired a debate at the Town Hall in Birmingham on what an elected mayor might do for the city, which can be seen here.
Over a hundred people attended and the discussion ranged from what business wanted from a mayor, through jobs, transport and education, and to how a mayor could help the inner city and other deprived areas in sharing in the wealth that the city generates.
Much of the discussion through the two panels was about power: what extra powers would a mayor have as compared with the current set up?
Interestingly, the so-called 'core cities' (including Birmingham but not Coventry) can cut 'city deals' with central government to draw down more powers. Quite how far this will go is yet to be made clear, but one argument in favour of a mayor in Birmingham at least is that s/he may be in a good position to negotiate as good a deal as possible for the city.
That's a game-changer in terms of whether the city should have a mayor, I'd argue.
The situation over in Coventry is quite different, as there is no core city type deal on offer as yet - why not? Why can't other cities like Coventry get a 'city deal'? After all, cities account for 58% of England's population and 61% of its jobs, and with their wider commuting areas taken into account, this rises to 74% of the population and 78% of jobs.
One clue as to what sort of deal a 'Brummie Boris' may agree with central government comes in the form of the deal that Manchester has just agreed with central government.
Manchester has yet to decide on whether it actually wants a mayor, but has anyway got its act together as usual and pulled off the first deal in the country that gives it a range of new powers, including the power to create jobs and train local people with the right skills to fill them.
In addition, the city will get the ability to 'earn back' a portion of the additional tax generated by investing in infrastructure. This will allow Greater Manchester to 'earn back' up to £30 million a year of tax for growth it creates. This is the first time that a UK city has had the freedom to reinvest its own national tax revenues. Under the scheme, Manchester will control investment of some £1.2 billion in infrastructure such as transport.
It's hoped that the deal will help the city drive growth and create opportunities for the benefit the whole Greater Manchester city-region.
Other elements of the 'deal' include a 'City Apprenticeship and Skills Hub' to increase the number of apprenticeships for 16-24 year olds by 10% to 6,000, a strengthened 'Business Growth Hub' to give trade, investment and business advice to local companies, a 'Low Carbon Hub' aiming to help the city cut carbon emissions by 48% by 2020, a new investment board and improved transport.
The city reckons that the deal will lead to 3,800 new jobs for local people and will protect some 2,300 existing jobs.
Interestingly some of the potential candidates to be a Brummie mayor at the panel last Sunday didn't appear to know too much about the Manchester City Deal (or at least didn't show it). That's surprising given how important this landmark deal potentially is.
Sion Simon was the one exception who cited in detail the provisions of the Deal and pointed to implications for Birmingham. Liam Byrne also seemed to grasp its significance. But the other potential candidiates who were present might learn something by reading up on the details of the Manchester City Deal which can be found here.
It's an interesting new model, with potential implications for transport and skills in Birmingham. And if it's good enough for Manchester, why not Birmingham? And an elected mayor, I'd argue, would be in a far stronger position to cut as good a deal as possible for Birmingham.
Professor David Bailey works at Coventry University Business School.