After seven years of austerity, cities are no strangers to budget cuts.
With a precarious government and no sign of any increase in funding, despite the warm words about the “end of austerity”, it is no wonder cities have been finding innovative ways to make money.
Cities around the country have access to a wealth of assets, whether land and buildings around stations or disused ducting networks, and they are becoming increasingly creative about how they use them.
Cities are increasingly using assets to boost economic growth ambitions as well as raise revenues to plug gaps in vital service funding.
But not every city is equipped with the same resources, relationships or entrepreneurial flair to work their assets as well as they can, and without the right mix of networks and commercial acumen, there is a risk that using assets to support economic growth and increase revenues could fail.
Centre for Cities’ latest report, Delivering Change: How City Partnerships Make the Most of Public Assets, highlights several examples of where cities are working with local partners to achieve better economic, social and financial returns. It lays out five lessons that every city leader must learn before taking their first steps toward investing in their place, in a way that may feel like a culture shock to some local government lifers.
First, every city needs to know its assets. The only way to be sure of the best available opportunities for increasing economic growth and revenue is by getting to grips with all the land and property available, not just that owned by the local authority but across all parts of the public sector.
Second, cities need a clear sense of how those assets can support a long-term vision for the future of the local economy and what it will take to unlock them.
Third, have a commercial mind-set. It is imperative that cities understand the asset development and management market, who the players are, what the pitfalls are, and how they can guard against them.
Fourth, projects must be well managed with appropriate expertise. Asset development can’t be done on the cheap. Ensuring appropriate resources are committed at the outset will help this to happen.
Finally, ensure projects are supporting strong strategic partnerships. There are bound to be challenges along the way, so any project needs flexibility and a working relationship that goes beyond contracts, to help overcome the toughest hurdles.
Plenty of cities are already building collaborative partnerships to make the most of their assets. As the entrepreneurial mind-set and practice spreads, more cities will be able to support their economies and raise revenue, irrespective of the gridlock that now consumes Westminster.
Andrew Carter, chief executive, Centre for Cities