Creating Creative Cities – how the City Growth Commission report can unlock innovation and entrepreneurialism across the UK
It’s a fascinating 21st century paradox that technology is obliterating distance, enabling us to easily communicate and collaborate with people on the other side of the planet, and yet physical proximity and clustering in cities is more crucial for innovation than ever before.
As the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has written, cities “are our greatest invention” – places where entrepreneurs, academics and inventors can collide with diverse viewpoints and industries. This type of serendipitous collision is vital for modern innovation, which so often arises from inter-disciplinary thinking, and the cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches. Read more
In his blog last week, Adam Lent talked about a crisis of representative democracy, referencing a YouGov survey in which 72% agreed with the statement: ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society’. He eloquently made the case for political parties to “shift away from the current highly representative approach to democracy based on strong party discipline, to one with a larger element of direct democracy”.
While I agree with the sentiment – indeed it is my team’s raison d’être to support a “shift in power to people and communities so that they can better meet their economic and social needs and aspirations” – I think there are a number of steps between where we are now and “direct democracy”. So rather than take on the problem as a whole, perhaps we should look at it in smaller chunks – baby steps, like the following:
1. Put down the PR tools
Think back to last month’s party conferences: the speakers were all careful to show their empathy for the common man, liberally referencing real people and situations, but by trying to curb support for Ukip with carefully crafted speeches about people’s lives, it reinforced the disconnect between their lives and those of their subjects. Read more
Guest blog by Bruce Katz, City Growth Commissioner.
As the United States suffers through the final weeks of a particularly bitter midterm election, something remarkable is happening in the United Kingdom. All three major parties in Britain have concluded that devolving power away from central government and toward metropolitan areas will improve economic growth and government performance. Tory, Lib-Dem, and Labour alike find themselves competing over who can articulate a more complete vision of devolution. It’s enough to make you believe in representative democracy again.
The Royal Society of the Arts’ City Growth Commission has released a well-timed report that explains the need for devolution in the U.K. and creates a blueprint for how to get it done. “The drumbeat of devolution has grown ever louder,” writes Jim O’Neill, chairman of the commission. “Over recent months, the importance of cities in driving growth and prosperity has been increasingly recognized, rising up the political agenda to the highest levels.” Read more
One of the perennial objections to greater devolution of power away from the central state and down to cities and regions is the claim that it will damage equality. A classic of the genre was recently penned by The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who wrote:
The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals.
This is a version of what I described in a recent post as “big equality”. This is the notion, which gained a firm grip in the twentieth century, that the best route to equality was for a powerful state to equalise incomes by redistributing the proceeds of the wealth and assets owned by the better off. It is fundamentally a remedial and conservative approach to achieving a more equal society. It takes as a given that current inequalities of wealth and economic power are very difficult or impossible to change and so the only route is to take some money from the well-off and hand it on to the less well-off. Read more
Tomorrow the City Growth Commission launches its final report, Unleashing Metro Growth. There we bring together the themes and ideas that have developed throughout the course of our 12-month independent. Our aim was to consider how we raise the trend rate of UK growth, generating prosperity for all by harnessing the power of our city-regions.
Our research has taken us far and wide, engaging with government, business, academia and civil society organisations across the UK. We covered a range of ideas, including skills and enterprise, infrastructure and connectivity and fiscal devolution. Seen primarily through our economic lens, the Commission’s work has touched on intricacies of local and central government relationships and politics, constitutional reform and Whitehall structural and culture change. Read more
The final report of the City Growth Commission puts a figure on failure: £79billion. That is the missed economic opportunity of the UK’s most significant metros failing to grow at the same rate as the UK average. It is also worth considering the wealth generation that the UK has foregone over decades. This output gap is the price of political and governing failure.
The City Growth Commission is a highly significant contribution to a battery of heavy-duty reports over the past few years on the benefits that could be secured through the greater devolution of power, resources and responsibility. Michael Heseltine’s ‘No Stone Unturned‘, Labour’s policy review (most notably the Local Government Innovation Taskforce and the Adonis Growth Review) and now this final City Growth Commission report present a concrete analysis of the need to change. Better economic outcomes, better public services and a healthier democracy are promised. The intellectual argument has been won. The argument now moves on to the ‘how’. Read more
Filed under: Fellowship, Recovery, Social Economy
Leeds-based fellow Rob Greenland updates us on the progress of Leeds Empties, which the RSA recently supported with a £5,000 Catalyst grant.
You probably have an idea as to what an empty home looks like. Boarded-up, semi-derelict, with an overgrown front garden. And it’ll probably not be the only empty home on the street.
The reality, at least in Leeds, is very different. Perhaps 10% of our 5000 long-term empty homes look like this. The rest are empty – but in appearance are no different to any other house on the street.
That’s not to say they’re not a problem. They’ll be costing the owners money – and, whilst there’s a chronic housing shortage, it’s a wasted resource.
More often than not the owner would like to bring their home back into use, but they don’t know where to start. That’s where our Empty Homes Doctor service comes in. Read more
Disabled people have been talked about a lot this week. First, it emerged that a Conservative party councillor and the minister for welfare reform discussed whether certain disabled people were “worth the full [sic: minimum] wage,” with Lord Freud bandying around £2 an hour as a ballpark. Next, there were rowdy exchanges in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions as Ed Miliband seemed to call for Freud’s dismissal from government. #LordFreud, implausibly, has trended on Twitter for three days now. Arguments swirled on last night’s BBC Question Time as everybody condemned the minister’s language while attacking Labour’s Angela Eagle MP for using the issue as a “political football”. And yet, unfortunately, disabled people’s own voices have not been at the forefront of the public discussion.
The power of inertia within government is often held to blame for a raft of failures: chronically poor IT systems, unnecessarily bureaucratic management practices, and inefficient, ineffective policy initiatives, to name just three. Returning from the last of the party conferences in Glasgow, it seems that a little inertia could go a long way. If the commitment to city-devolution is as real as each of the parties makes out, we should anticipate metros being at the heart of any next government’s economic strategy.
The consensus for city-devolution, and a number of the City Growth Commission’s pro-growth measures (e.g. improved connectivity between our major metros in the north), is both encouraging and rather surprising – given where were at the start of the Commission’s inquiry, just twelve months ago. Read more
Filed under: Education Matters, Enterprise, Social Economy
The UniverCities report will be published 14 October with a launch event in Cardiff. If you’d like to attend, register here.
The UK’s higher education sector is worth over £73 billion to the economy. As many as 757,268 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs have been created by the sector, of which 320,000 are staff directly employed by universities. In 2011, higher education contributed 2.8 percent of UK GDP. Reeling off these stats together it is clear that the higher education sector already plays a strong role in economic growth. In our upcoming report, UniverCities: the knowledge to power metro growth, we will propose ways that universities can enhance their economic impact at a local level.