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REGIONS DEMAND FLEXIBILTY

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IPPR report backs idea of 'asymmetric devolution'...
IPPR report backs idea of 'asymmetric devolution'

By Jennifer Sprinks

Councils pushing ahead with city region structures have rejected the notion that devolution should depend on their size and economic importance.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research's City leadership report launched this week, all areas need greater financial flexibility, building on existing policy initiatives. It also called for 'asymmetric devolution', where different regions would have different degrees of autonomy.

Centre for Cities researcher Adam Marshall said larger cities will gain financial freedoms.

'City regions are for a large conurbation. Nottingham is not a big conurbation and it does not have the same intensity of economic flows that Birmingham and other cities have.

'While the Three Cities is an interesting economic alliance, [Nottingham with Leicester and Derby] does not have a city region in the way we are talking about them.'

Nottingham City Council's three cities co-ordinator, Andrew Hall, said that while its city region model is very different its economic potential should not be underestimated.

'Nottingham is about the same size as Bristol and Sheffield. If it applies to them then it can apply here. We want government to come up with a solution that will work for us too. It will never be a one-size-fits-all approach in any area.'

In line with the ODPM's framework on city regions published last week, Centre for Cities said the concept should be tested out first in Birmingham and Manchester because they are ready to gain powers over regeneration and transport, as well as revenue-raising.

However, Mr Hall said: 'We would want to say loudly that there should not be a pilot for one model, but to see if devolution can work elsewhere.'

Bristol City Council's leader Barbara Janke (Lib Dem) agreed that financial devolution should not depend on size and economic importance but the complexity of sub-regions combined together.

She added that, despite Bristol already operating a city region structure in the West of England Partnership, the latest government proposals could plug the investment gap in transport infrastructure.

'If economic growth and development is to be maintained, then we need infrastructure growth in transport and skills sectors so funding streams will need to be brought together.'

'If economic growth and development is to be maintained, then we need infrastructure growth in transport and skills sectors so funding streams will need to be brought together'

Barbara Janke Leader, Bristol City Council

Analysis - cities duck leadership question

By Nick Golding

Minister David Miliband has asked core city regions to devise new governance arrangements, and their leaders have succeeded in being innovative.

Sadly, however, much of their innovation has been devoted to putting a new spin on existing informal co-operation between councils or scheduling formal meetings around it, rather than taking advantage of an almost unprecedented opportunity to rethink urban leadership.

No core city has had the courage to seriously question whether its local inhabitants could benefit from an elected Ken Livingstone-style figure providing genuine leadership to put their city and region on the map.

Instead, cities advocate leaders' boards that could see the distribution of local grants and infrastructure decisions bogged down in wrangling or horse trading more characteristic of the setting of the EU budget than 21st-century local governance.

Any leader on such a board will be under pressure from their local council, media and population to ensure their area wins at least its fair share of the cash when every spending decision is made.

The result is unlikely to be a set of leaders able and willing to make the tough choices required to meet the challenge of transforming England's urban heartlands into catalysts of regional development.

The new partnerships advocated by core cities could well be a step forward - but hardly a radical step.

Mr Miliband might feel somewhat affronted. After decades of top-down rule he has genuinely given local representatives an opportunity to shape the future of their area - and win more powers - only for the politicians to reject anything which could potentially limit their, or their party's, local grip. They are missing an opportunity.

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