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Investment, not devolution is new Key Cities chair's main focus

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The new chair of the Key Cities group wants to focus on attracting investment for specific projects into members’ areas instead of trying to get a commitment from government to devolve sets of powers.

Peter Box is also “hoping” to increase the group’s membership to include more mid-sized cities in the near future.

The Conservative manifesto expressed support for devolution to “great cities” which adopt elected mayors. Former Key Cities chair Paul Watson (Lab) had been seeking clarification on what defined a great city.

Peter Box

Peter Box

Peter Box

But Cllr Box said: “I don’t want us to get side-tracked about what a particular word in the manifesto means about devolution. I’m more interested in making the positive case about where we’re seeing growth and where we need to see more investment and that is undoubtedly in key cities.”

While some key cities are involved in devolution discussions, including Cllr Box’s Wakefield MDC in West Yorkshire, he said “I don’t know” if the government is still commited to that agenda.

“Despite devolution there will still be individual investment decisions to be made, not just by government but inward investors,” said Cllr Box. “The devolution agenda is important but it’s not the sole agenda of Key Cities.”

Cllr Box said mid-sized cities had seen the “fastest” economic growth since 2008, had employment rates above the national average, while “productivity is higher than some of the bigger cities”. As a result Cllr Box said key cities had “the most potential”.

“All governments want to see growth,” he said. “Our argument is the way to see the biggest growth in the shortest amount of time is [Key Cities] are places to invest.”

There are currently 21 members of the Key Cities group but Cllr Box expects that number to increase in the coming weeks.

“If we can get a slightly enlarged membership it means we are stronger, we speak for more people, and we have a greater economic diversity, and it also means the government has got greater options in terms of investment,” he said.

Should they be successful even more cities could be enrolled in the future, said Cllr Box.

“We don’t expect our membership to double but there are two or three other cities that have expressed some interest in joining, the existing members have got to show them the benefits of joining the group,” he said. “But we have got to make sure we remain focused and don’t want to be trying to solve everything because that’s not our role.”

The chair of the group of 10 Core Cities Judith Blake (Lab) is leader Leeds City Council which neighbours Cllr Box’s Wakefield. As the pair “have been friends for years” Cllr Box thought “that can only help” in trying to further both of their organisation’s causes.

Cllr Box said the pair had already loosely agreed to work together on certain issues, and gave the industrial strategy as an example. A meeting of the Key Cities group on Friday will determine exactly what topics members would like to seek to formally collaborate with Core Cities on.

Members of the Key Cities group:

Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bradford, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Hull, Kirklees, Newport, Norwich, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Salford, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, Sunderland, Tees Valley, Wakefield, and Wolverhampton

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