Last week Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos toured European capitals seeking to drum up support for the peace negotiations he is presiding over in Havana, between his Government and the main Columbian guerilla group FARC.
The week before I was in his capital city at the UN Habitat World Cities Conference. The event was scheduled to coincide with the first ever UN designated World Cities Day. And I was the guest of the Economic Secretariat of Bogota.
Flushed with the success of our RSA City Growth Commission Report, I set off to Columbia somewhat apprehensive that my experience in looking at the potential of devolution for metropolitan areas in Britain may not seem quite so relevant to conference participants largely drawn from the urban policy community in Latin America. But to my pleasant surprise I found that there were a number of areas of common interest – which was a relief as I had already sent my Prezi off to be loaded on the AV system before I left the UK! Read more
9 November 1989: My parents were in a rush to get me and my brothers to our grandparents. It was a spontaneous rather than planned trip and I was too young to understand why my parents were suddenly in a hurry, yet I was old enough to understand that ‘something big’ was unfolding on that particular day.
Just a few hours later, my parents were crossing the border into East Germany, heading to Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Wall. Although I was unable to grasp the historical importance of that day in the autumn of 1989, this day is one of my earliest childhood memories.
The breakdown of the physical barrier dividing Germany and indeed Europe led also to the breakdown of a barrier that severely limited the power, indeed the freedom, to create. Whilst the fall of the Wall was an interplay of several several factors and individuals, (The Hoff claims he was one of them) the desire of East Germans to be free and to take their lives into their own hands – to gain the power to create their own lives – was probably the most decisive factor. Read more
Over the last twelve months, the RSA’s City Growth Commission has assessed how cities can be empowered to drive the UK’s economy. Chaired by renowned economist Jim O’Neill, who coined the acronym BRIC, the Commission underlined that our UK enquiry had to be seen in the global context.
Large scale infrastructure programmes, ranging from high rise office buildings to improved transport links are testament to the increasing importance of cities all over the world. Whilst London and New York remain the two biggest global players for now, cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai have joined the stage and are now followed by Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Nairobi and many more. Read more
Hearing Caroline Lucas state “We need not be afraid” in reference to a change in drugs policy was reassuring. It is time to step up and discuss this matter much more fully.
According to Norman Baker MP the recent report from the Home Office has been held back from publishing due to “inconvenient facts” for the government. The report looks at approaches to drug policy from 11 countries across the world. It has been particularly influenced by the 13 year policy focus on health in Portugal. Far from being incomparable to the situation in the UK, as suggested by the Tory minister Michael Ellis, the report states that it is “grounded in an understanding of the drugs situation in the UK” and further that it focused on themes that were “relevant to the UK situation”.
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