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This wholesale resistance to the holy grail of elected mayors is a bit of a blow for the "city chatterati" who have, in time-honoured tradition, blamed the government for not communicating the benefits clearly enough. The most common comment is "a missed opportunity". But was it?
Keeping close to matters in Nottingham (as I do) I can confirm that the turnout there was less than a quarter of the electorate. And the most cited bone of contention was one of resourcing; a mayoral office would be an extra expense (although this had been robustly disputed by Mr Pickles) in a city already well-led. The official statement from the City Council on Friday reads: "The outcome means that the council will continue to run as it already was under the leader and cabinet model. Nottingham City Council had agreed a policy position ahead of the referendum that it was opposed to the introduction of an Elected Mayor as it would not represent value for money City Council Leader, Councillor Jon Collins, has said: 'This was a referendum imposed on us by the Coalition Government which the majority of local people clearly did not agree with. I am pleased with this outcome because an Elected Mayor would have been expensive and unnecessary. This outcome shows that local people recognise we have a system in Nottingham which is working well for them and the city'."
UKR has a terrific working relationship with Centre for Cites, whom we've always regarded as close friends and colleagues. We rely heavily on their data for our analysis (and this has become ever-more critical now we're gearing up to place inward investment around the UK). But we were a bit disappointed this time around with the Report, which was comprised solely of bald statistics and had no analysis attached at all. We understand the need for purity around the numbers and the indices (or Dr Evans does, at least), but a bit of interpretation is needed surely? Markets were ever about sentiment, as well as numbers, and this is only one reason why we in UKR feel we must come out in support of Sunderland.
It is fairly open knowledge that UKR is working closely with Sunderland. Why, you ask? Why, when you have so much to prove with UKR? Why, when you have to establish "proof of concept" for your model in the first place, to imbue market confidence? Why, in circumstances when the market is jittery in any case, would you wish to work with a city in the North East of England? Well, I will tell you why. And there are a number of very good reasons.
It is all been far too easy really, for developers and others, to look to the public sector (or the quasi-public sector) to be the anchor tenant of developments over the past few years. I've lost count of the number of project teams I've been a member of who've (seriously) asked their host local authority to take space in the their developments (some of them even did it!). The Lyons Report was a fig leaf behind which many developers cowered, right the way through the boom years. As a result, and other top-down initiatives, we became supine and supplicant, waiting for government to do things.
We failed to grow the economy properly throughout the noughties, and we seriously need to get a grip now. And shifting bits of your machinery around the country to try to even things up in the economy was never going to be a recipe for real growth. It serves only to dislocate your talent and skills, who may well vote with their feet.
Market realism means recognising just why London is our capital city. That doesn't mean we don't need to - urgently - support the move to rebalance the economy away from London and the South East. But we need to do it quite differently. Inward investment will always play its part of course, but it is growing our own indigenous local economies, city by city, that will really work. We must develop radical strategies for rebuilding the economy in our great city regions. But it needs to be bottom up, not top down.
Whew! I said. Calm down dear, for goodness sake, you'll have a hernia!
But he was seeking some proper thoughts on which of these could be serious prospects for progress in 2012, and which might end up moving a little slower, so of course I tried to be helpful. But you won't be surprised to learn my prognosis was a little bleak.
And we are only just beginning to catch up with a few things snuck out on press releases by CLG just before Christmas. Honestly, anyone would think that the department was trying to bury bad news. And actually, most of it seems like pretty good news.
One of the releases (put out on 21 December) is that a Peter Schofield has been appointed to be CLG director-general for neighbourhoods. A quick straw poll around the regeneration lags quickly confirmed that none of us know him. And, sure enough, he joins CLG from HM Treasury, where he was director of the enterprise and growth unit.
My financing people certainly seemed to have cheered up in recent days which I guess might be down to the Eurozone crisis being in remission. But it is genuinely hard to be optimistic about growth.
In our own backyard, on the anniversary of the announcement of the first 24 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the UK government's "flagship policy for delivering economic growth and decentralisation", a study published today by our mates at Centre for Cities shows that many of the original LEPs have made limited progress. Eight have yet to have their boards recognised by government, only two have produced a long-term strategic plan and five do not have a dedicated website. In some cases, LEPs have appointed huge boards and advisory teams; the South East LEP has 43 board members and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP has 14 associated focus groups, with at least 160 people involved. This, the centre argues, could add a level of bureaucracy and process that might slow decision-making. This, I would argue is a clever strategy to give jobs to the boys and girls. In addition to these issues, some LEPs also face mismatches between spatial geography and the political and economic reality and pressures of partnership working across new boundaries.
CfC argues that LEPs still have potential if the government acts now to empower them to meet the rising expectation that they will be primary drivers of the government's growth agenda. It says: "the government needs to give capable LEPs the resources, powers and freedoms to take forward policies for local growth by devolving responsibility for transport and skills, as well as providing some financial support for the administration of the LEP". They are trying to be positive, but CfC do not point out that London, the engine for the economy in the UK, with its single LEP, ducks the whole issue completely, thereby further polarising the country into London and "the rest".
It is a shame. With such poor focus how can we attain growth in the long term?
The worst thing is that I sense the private sector has lost interest. The guys I'm working with certainly have. People who want to get things done just do not have any spare capacity to bone up on the internecine nonsense that generally beset area partnership politics. Would you rather have a LEP or a powerful civic leader like Howard Bernstein? You go figure.
Now, apparently this current crisis is much worse, much much worse, than Weimar Germany, say, or even the Great Depression. Global for a start. And - as I was scarily informed yesterday - "way beyond the point as being as bad as the collapse of Lehmans". Our political leaders need to collectively get a grip (and admit that the West is bankrupt) but seem pathologically incapable of doing so. And yet there is such a disconnect. I look out of my window, and it is business as usual; the commuters scurry past my front door on their way to the tube, the 237 bus belches diesel fumes on the Goldhawk Road, the bin men have trailed orange peel, tea bags and nappies up the street again. Nobody seems to be panicking, nobody is rushing out to buy dining tables, or to stockpile sugar. It really is a case of "Keep Calm and Carry On". Are we all on mogadon? Or is it really that money is merely an existential concept an nothing like as important as "Strictly"?
So... in the spirit of keeping calm and carrying on, I suppose I'd better go back to my own day job and continue to create a business that will implement localism on the ground. The key question for the UK economy (although it does feel a little like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic) is: what happens to growth when localism is the masterplan? And the RIBA and Centre for Cities are staging a joint breakfast roundtable on this very subject at this year's Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Sadly I cannot attend but good for them for grasping the nettle.
Then on Friday last, Mr Clark (at that precise moment, in his guise as local government minister, but it must all be very confusing) wrote to all councils setting out the new "planning guarantee". In a bold move, he has "guaranteed" that no planning application will be stuck in limbo for more than a year. Apparently, more than 3,000 UK applications have taken over a year to be dealt with over the last financial year. Someone from CB Richard Ellis was quoted as saying there was no reason why any application should take longer than three months and, while this is quite right for more than 90% of cases, of course, "guarantee" is a strong word. Still, you can't fault the bold thinking. And this move will only support the boost that is being offered to UK cities through this joint appointment between BIS and CLG.