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Cities: Economic Development

Volume 735: debated on Monday 6 February 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for economic development in city regions.

The Government want powerful, innovative cities that shape their economic destinies—engines of growth that will boost entire regions. We have already created 38 local enterprise partnerships, invested £2.4 billion in the regional growth fund and created enterprise zones in 24 cities and their wider local enterprise partnership areas. We are working with cities and their surrounding areas to agree bespoke city deals, supporting innovative local strategies to deliver growth.

My Lords, while I agree that cities can do much to drive our economy, there are other areas that do not fit well into city regions and that need economic development. I am thinking, for example, of parts of the former northern coal-field areas which, geographically, are not close to cities and which are not well linked with effective public transport, even though they include areas of high youth unemployment hotspots as identified in today’s ACEVO report. Given that, and given that regional development agencies which were able to address the needs of such areas have been abolished, will the Government give a firm commitment that areas on the fringe, or, indeed, outside city regions, will not be overlooked in their policies?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, we are currently developing city regions which will be within the local enterprise partnerships and will cover most of that. We are aware, of course, of the problems that the noble Baroness identified. I am sure that there will be further discussion on that in due course.

My Lords, while I strongly support what the Minister said about the Government’s approach to city regions, perhaps I may draw her attention to the fact that public expenditure per head is higher in Northern Ireland, London, Scotland and Wales than in any English region. Might not one possibility be for the Government to look again at rebalancing public spending and consider what the Lyons report said about decentralising Civil Service jobs from Whitehall to the English regions?

My Lords, as I am sure the House knows, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has been appointed as a government adviser on cities, and so will speak with authority. I want to look further at the matters he has raised and, if necessary, I will write to him.

I welcome the noble Baroness’s creation particularly of the Birmingham-Solihull local enterprise partnership under the chairmanship of Andy Street, of John Lewis Partnership, with whom I am having a fruitful discussion about social inclusion. Will the Minister comment on the importance of social well-being for the achievement of the LEPs’ goals and indicate to which areas of social policy we should give priority in achieving a high quality of life for all?

My Lords, the first thing that we must do is to get growth in the cities and get our economy moving. Without that we will not be able to do what the right reverend Prelate is suggesting. Social well-being is part of the life that we hope to lead in the cities and their regions and I know that that will be taken into account. As I say, however, first we must ensure that we get the economy moving. That is what the cities programme is about.

My Lords, it is all very well for the Minister to say that we must get growth in the cities, but she will be all too well aware that the distribution of resources from central government is to the disfavour of our northern cities, in particular, in favour of southern shire counties. Is she not greatly concerned that northern cities are not only losing out on the devolution settlement, which helps Wales and Scotland, but in fact are being disfavoured compared with the rest of England?

My Lords, there are many northern cities that are involved in the cities programme—the cities deal. I know that consultation discussions are taking place with them on what is required for the future. The distribution of the grant, of course, is done against our formula.