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'Jury out' on city deals say first wave cities

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Cities involved with the first wave of city deals believe the “jury is still out” on whether the decentralisation programme will have any lasting impact.

The lukewarm verdict on the deals comes as the government is poised to announce a second wave of deals with another dozen or so cities.

A report by Centre for Cities, compiled following interviews with representatives of the eight core cities involved in the first wave of city deals, found that a “clear message” from the cities to government was “that the jury is still out on the long term significance of City Deals”.

The report, published on Monday, continued: “They have the potential to herald the start of a major shift from central to local control – but they are unlikely to be remembered beyond the current political cycle unless they prove to be the start of a longer, wider process”.

Centre for Cities’ report also found:

  • One of the most significant achievements of city deals was their ability to change Whitehall and private sector perceptions that local government is slow and driven by process
  • Development of deals was not managed collaboratively with central government, instead departments focused “on proving cities wrong”
  • The negotiation process had not allowed cities to work together
  • Departments commitment to decentralisation varied significantly and departments were still working in silos

Core cities also offered advice the second wave of cities currently awaiting to hear whether they have made it to the next stage of negotiations.

“Cities should stand firm on their priorities, and demonstr5ate that they understand their local economic needs better than government,” the report said.

“It is important to keep the private sector involved,” it added. “This improves the quality and strength of proposals, and makes it harder for government to reject them.”

Peter Box (Lab), chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, agreed with the report’s finding that levels of support for city deals varied from department to department, but called on government to accelerate devolution of powers.

“We need to accelerate the pace and scale of devolution. The ambition to promote growth is clearly there among councils and the overall direction of travel from government looks positive,” he said.

“Lord Heseltine’s Review identified £58bn of government funding for growth that could be better used if local areas made the investment decisions rather than civil servants. There is clearly varying degrees of buy-in from different government departments, but the onus is on Whitehall to devolve more power and resources.”

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