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Peter Box: Government must work with cities to address inequalities

Peter Box
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Centre for Cities’ recent report shows starkly that the challenge of bridging social and economic divides between our cities is one that ministers cannot duck.

It shows a worrying trend towards an increasing gap in prosperity, which left unchecked will leave some cities languishing with lost jobs and lost opportunities, while just a few forge ahead. This will only widen divisions already in place within the UK, but if we act boldly we can instead build a stronger and more united country.

Automation and other technological change could mean almost 30% of jobs going in many of our cities, including my own Wakefield and other key cities. This represents a real danger to our communities, but it is not an impossible challenge. The essence of automation is old skills becoming redundant and new skills coming to the fore. Our priority should be investing in the skills that will give our young people high-quality, well-paying jobs 10, 20 and 30 years from now.

Ministers have it in their power to ensure that cities can be competitive in the digital age, an approach that would drive productivity across the country. Research and development funding that is distributed fairly, and training schemes that are tailored to the needs of local place. These are essential, as is more funding for schools and spending on transport so that good jobs are within reach.

The industrial strategy is explicit about the need to tailor government investment place-by-place. At its heart is an understanding that needs will vary around the country. The government should also start to align national priorities for Brexit, with a focus on increased automation. These two great projects and challenges cannot be at done at cross-purposes to each other. Working together they can support export-led growth, new technologies, and sustained market access for key sectors. Now is the time for action.

In this endeavour, Key Cities is ready and able to act as a partner with the government. We have shown remarkable resilience since the financial crisis and can bring to bear the unique flexibility and innovative drive of both our leaders and our businesses. Across the country, we are pioneering advanced manufacturing, battery technology, life sciences and digital enterprise; these are all driving productivity. Key Cities can deploy our in-depth knowledge of local conditions to ensure that government investment is channelled for maximum impact.

We are at the sharp end of automation, and can see the two paths before us. We urge the government to work with us to secure the future for all our people and places.

Peter Box (Lab), leader, Wakefield MDC and chair, Key Cities


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