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Big city leaders to follow in footsteps of Chamberlain

Big city leaders to follow in footsteps of Chamberlain

🕔26.Jan 2017

The Core Cities group of leading UK councils will meet in Birmingham’s Highbury Hall, the ancestral home of Joseph Chamberlain, for an ‘industrial strategy summit’ tomorrow. Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy writes about his hopes for the meeting, calling on Government to give big cities more powers and tax-raising functions. 

The leaders of the UK’s largest cities are gathering in Birmingham to discuss hugely important economic and social issues at a time when city regions have never been better placed to play a major role in solving many of the problems facing Britain.

The Core Cities group – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – represent the UK’s largest city economies outside London. They are the economic drivers of the nation.

It is, I think, highly significant that local government’s biggest players have decided to hold a two-day meeting at Highbury Hall, the ancestral home of Joseph Chamberlain, one of Birmingham and Britain’s greatest Victorian municipal leaders.

The symbolism of this could hardly be greater. Chamberlain, as a successful businessman, instinctively realised that city economies cannot grow without social reform. Decent housing, good public health, workforce skills – all of these things are the essential ingredients for economic prosperity.

Investing in the people of our cities and their public services is as important as investing in the physical infrastructure, and that’s as true now as it was in 1873 when Chamberlain first became mayor of Birmingham.

Joe Chamberlain was the father of inclusive economic growth. He realised that big social reform makes economic and business sense because without a healthy and happy workforce you have an under-performing economy.

He did big, bold things and recognised that the citizens of Birmingham could be the city economy’s greatest asset, by improving their lives and their conditions. He knew that was good business and good economics and made businesses grow.

Almost 150 years ago Chamberlain ran Birmingham as a radical and reforming mayor. Today, good local government is just as important, perhaps even more so, to the lives of citizens.

The ten Core Cities urban areas deliver 28 per cent of the combined economic output of England, Wales and Scotland and are home to almost 19 million people, 30.7 per cent of the combined English, Welsh and Scottish population. The West Midlands economy is greater than that of Wales.

Core Cities is keen to work with the Government to tackle difficult issues, most notably trading arrangements in a post-Brexit world, the development of a new Industrial Strategy, and embedding inclusive economic growth in all we do to make sure Great Britain plc works for everyone, not just for a privileged few.

We want to find ways to increase social mobility and address the insecurity experienced by a growing section of the population that feels left behind by rapid global change. We know we have to find ways to reverse inequality between neighbourhoods as well as between individuals.

But this reform agenda cannot be pursued successfully without healthy city region economies.

It makes perfect sense for any Government to want city regions to do well because Britain’s future as a trading nation is tied irrevocably to the performance of the great cities. I for one look forward to responding to this week’s Government Green Paper on Industrial Strategy.

Strong cities will mean a strong global Britain in the post-Brexit world, just as they drove the nation’s wealth in the Victorian era of Chamberlain.

Throughout history cities have always played a vital role in the national and global economy, but in the past few years their importance has increased. The real growth is in the big cities – the places where people come together to innovate and invent new forms of wealth creation and the places where cultures mix and quality of life is enriched.

National economies rely on international flows of trade, labour and commerce between cities. Cities must therefore be empowered to compete on an even playing field with their more devolved continental counterparts – and that means giving UK cities greater powers and tax-raising functions.

To be successful the Government’s Industrial Strategy must recognise the link between social and economic policy in building long term relationships with industry, and delivering inclusive growth.

Big things are happening in Birmingham now and Chamberlain, I hope, would have approved of our ambition. In uncertain times, you can rest assured that Birmingham and the rest of the Core Cities won’t simply ‘adapt’ to the post-Brexit world – we’ll help shape it.

Here in Birmingham we’re not simply waiting for an Article 50 starting gun. I’ve recently led trade missions to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Qatar and Chicago in an effort to sell Birmingham as a post-Brexit investment opportunity.

And that is something I’m sure Joseph Chamberlain would have approved of, and he would certainly have welcomed Theresa May’s commitment to working with all of our ‘great regional cities’.

Winston Churchill said of Joseph Chamberlain:

He was the man who made the weather. He was a man who led where others followed.

And just over 100 years after the great man’s death, you can be sure that Britain’s cities are ready once again to lead from the front.

So my message to the Government is: give cities the powers and we’ll deliver – not just for Birmingham and the West Midlands, but for Britain.

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