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Cities call for post-Brexit powers to rebalance economy

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New powers to promote social mobility and improved wellbeing should be part of a post-Brexit settlement, city councils outside London have told the government.

Proposals including the power to levy a local tourist tax, the acceleration of zero-carbon public transport and extra support for young people’s mental health services have been put forward by the Key Cities group of 24 councils across England and Wales.

The cities, which include many where a majority of voters supported the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, have also called for greater powers to implement tailored skills and employment programmes as part of a “more inclusive and rebalanced” economy after Brexit.

In particular, they are pressing for reform of the apprenticeship levy, the introduction of an all-age careers service and assistance to test new housing initiatives. They also want to see the referral age for adult mental health services to be raised from 18 to 25 and extra support to develop early intervention to address mental ill-health.

The group, which includes Bradford, Newport and Southampton, has a combined population of 6.38 million and an economic output of £130bn, with many held back by below median wages and poor housing quality.

However, according to the Cities in Action report published today, an additional £258bn could be generated for the UK economy if the cities had the support and levers needed to boost productivity levels to the English average.

“Our compact size, cross-country locations and close connections with local stakeholders make us the perfect partners for national governments, businesses and other key organisations to pilot new and innovative ideas that can be rolled out across the rest of the country to unlock further benefits for society and UK plc,” it said.

Peter Box (Lab), chair of the Key Cities and leader of Wakefield MDC, said the document was both an offer to work with the government to deliver a new settlement and a demand for the tools needed to build a better country.

“The referendum wasn’t just about Brexit, it was a demand by the millions who live outside the centre of power in London for a new settlement that gives them the opportunities and living standards denied to too many,” he said.

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