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Small cities should play bigger role in Northern Powerhouse delivery

Northern Powerhouse policy should pay more attention to the role of ‘small and medium sized cities’ (SMCs), according to a new report from think tank IPRR North.

The report criticises the ‘agglomeration narrative’ that says that cities such as Manchester and Leeds are growing in counterbalance to London.

Instead, it says that the productivity and employment rates of these cities have often grown below national rates, while 20 SMCs contribute one-third of the north’s economy (£82bn) and of its population, and have experienced 34% growth since 2009.

For example, Warrington, Wakefield and Durham have growth rates that exceed their core city neighbours, and Wigan and Burnley have higher labour productivity rates than Manchester.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: “The latest academic research is asking some big questions about the big city story and it is about time policymakers recognised this.

“In the same way small and medium businesses are now seen as vital to the British economy and the success of our big companies, we need to refocus policy on the north’s small and medium towns and cities, and not just the big cities – vital as they are.

“The evidence shows this is not ‘jam-spreading’ resources thinly but economically the right thing to do: Manchester needs a prosperous Wigan to succeed, and vice-versa.”

The report recommends that HM Treasury and the National Infrastructure Commission reappraise the appraisal methodologies set out in the Green Book, and that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and combined authorities pursue specific initiatives to build on the success of SMCs and encourage them to connect with each other.

It recommends that the chairs of LEPs meet regularly to discuss opportunities for collaboration to promote SMCs. It also says that SMCs themselves should do more to promote enterprise and engage with sub-regional affairs.

The report comes in contradiction to a recent report from Centre for Cities, which recommended that Northern Powerhouse funding is concentrated on the biggest cities.

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found that the Northern Powerhouse LEPs that have seen the biggest growth in prosperity have failed to see a similar growth in economic inclusion.

(Image c. Mrs Logic)

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