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Building on Chamberlain’s ‘visionary’ legacy in Brexit talks

Leaders and mayors from the UK’s 10 Core Cities are determined to build on the legacy of “visionary city reformer” Joseph Chamberlain by striving to design successful, inclusive places in a post-Brexit world.

Gathering this week at Highbury Hall, the former home of Chamberlain – who is renowned in local government as the Victorian mayor of Birmingham “largely responsible” for the city’s success in that era – Core Cities leaders discussed how cities can make the country a stronger and fairer place to live.

Home to around 19 million people, the ‘core cities’ are responsible for generating a quarter of the UK economy. 

Speaking after the meeting’s roundtable discussion – which included the presence of Louisville mayor Greg Fisher and US economist Bruce Katz – the leader of Leeds City Council and chair of Core Cities UK, Cllr Judith Blake, said: “It is fitting that our meeting took place at Highbury Hall. Joseph Chamberlain invented the concept of modern city government in the UK and was largely responsible for Birmingham’s success in the Victorian era.

“As a new generation of city leaders, we are determined to follow up on his legacy, building successful, inclusive places that fulfil their vast potential.”

Post Brexit, she added, the core cities will be “more important than ever”.

“We have come together in Birmingham to remind the government that our cities will be key to UK success in the future,” said Cllr Blake. “It is only by giving more power to place that we can grow our country’s productivity and create real economic growth that means no-one is left behind.”

Their meeting closely follows a Centre for Cities report which concluded that a arranging a trade deal must be Whitehall’s top priority in its Brexit negotiations, since the EU is the biggest export market for 61 out of Britain’s 62 cities.

The think tank found that every British city but one – Hull – sells more of its exports to the EU than anywhere else across the world. Impressively, two-thirds of cities trade half or more of their exports to the EU. Even Derby, the city which least relies on European markets, sells a quarter of its exports to EU countries.

But despite city leaders insisting that they have a place round the Brexit negotiating table, interim Greater Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd recently accused prime minister Theresa May of altogether “snubbing” the north in these discussions.

Northern combined authority bosses had invited May in July last year to meet with them to ensure they are involved in the UK’s exit from the EU, but the PM refused to discuss Brexit with them – despite regularly visiting Wales and Scotland to meet with other devolved administration leaders.


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