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08.03.16

Devolution agenda 'should include smaller cities'

‘Fast-growth cities’ need government support to help them grow as well as larger but less economically productive cities, according to a new independent report.

The report, ‘Fast Growth Cities: The Challenges and Opportunities Ahead’, from charity Centre for Cities, says that Milton Keynes, Norwich, Cambridge, Oxford and Swindon contribute £57,000 for each worker to the British economy, above the UK average of £53,700 and are at least 2.6% above the national employment rate, including high paying and skilled jobs.

However, it warns that they face problems such as increased pressure on transport infrastructure, increased demand for housing and declining affordability, and skills shortages and residents with low skills levels.

Alexandra Jones, CEO of Centre for Cities, said: “The government’s devolution agenda has understandably focused on boosting growth in some of the UK’s biggest city-economies, many of which are punching below their weight economically.

“However, for the government to realise its ambitions of building a more productive and higher-wage economy across the country, it’s crucial that it does not overlook the challenges facing the Fast Growth Cities group, which are among the most economically vibrant and innovative places in the UK.”

She added that in order for these smaller cities to continue to grow, “it’s vital that they receive the kind of tailored policy support the government is putting in place for cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield”.

The fast growth cities have all experienced population growth in the past 10 years, of 18.1% for Milton Keynes (making it the UK’s second fastest growing city), 15.8% for Swindon, 14.5% for Cambridge, 11.6% for Oxford and 7.6% for Norwich.

But the growing pressure on the cities could cause problems in the future – for example, housing is less affordable in Oxford than in any other place in the UK, costing more than 16 times the average wage in the city.

Centre for Cities warned in its annual economy health check report that the housing crisis is undermining the government’s ‘low welfare, high wage’ economic plans.

A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week found that 10 of the country’s 12 most struggling cities are in the north.

Jones recently wrote a PSE guest blog arguing that metro-mayors are another crucial aspect of the devolution agenda.

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