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Greater Birmingham Mayor plan given fresh legs by Cities Minister

Greater Birmingham Mayor plan given fresh legs by Cities Minister

🕔10.Dec 2013

Cities Minister Greg Clark hasn’t given up on the idea that Britain’s biggest cities would be best run by directly elected mayors, and is keen to cite Joseph Chamberlain as a role model.

Mr Clark says places like Birmingham and Manchester need “visionary leaders” and the notion that cities don’t need leadership “is for the birds”.

He made his remarks in an interview with the parliamentary House Magazine, where he hinted that the Government might look again at the possibility of Metro Mayors representing conurbations.

The idea was floated a year ago by Lord Heseltine in his No Stone Unturned report, which envisaged transferring powers and budgets from Whitehall to the regions.

Mr Clark gives the example of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, two regions where an elected mayor could assume control of economic development, transport, housing and planning. The idea could also work across Greater Birmingham, where Birmingham City Council is already talking to the Black Country councils about setting up a Combined Authority.

Mr Clark, who works alongside Michael Heseltine in the Cabinet Office, said: “Just as a nation can be well led or poorly led the idea that leadership is irrelevant for a city is for the birds. A visionary leader of a city can make an enormous difference.

“And we know that. It’s not some eccentric thought that this might be possible. You just need to walk around Birmingham to see the legacy over a century later of Joseph Chamberlain.

“Right across the country we know what a difference leadership makes. And internationally, we have a case in point in America where the Chief of Staff to the President thinks it’s a better job to be the Mayor of Chicago.

“I think in the future what may be the case is that cities see the advantage of this and want to come back to it voluntarily, not necessarily on the boundaries they had,” he says.

“One of the features we have of British cities is the administrative boundaries often don’t describe the reality of a city. So the city of Manchester is a very small part of Greater Manchester. Now it could be just as London has had a mayor in effect of Greater London, it could be that the people of Greater Manchester might think such a figure could be beneficial in the future.”

However, while Mr Clark regrets that cities like Birmingham rejected mayors in a referendum, he is careful to stick to the coalition government’s line that this is a matter best decided locally.

“The view that I’ve always taken is not to force people into doing something they don’t want to do, that’s never a recipe for success. But if we can facilitate, help give expression to any desire to do things differently that places have then I think we will do that.”

The Cities Minister insists he wants to see the regions up their game and return to the important positions of status and power they held in Victorian times, noting that Joseph Chamberlain “had a comprehensive vision and confidence that didn’t rely on London”.

And on the sensitive topic of HS2, Mr Clark thinks the Government should emphasise the benefit of far faster journey times by promoting the notion that a 38 minute journey will turn Birmingham and Manchester into a “virtual city” and provide a tremendous boost to the economy by making it easier to conduct business.

“If you want a quick meeting, if you want to look at a potential supplier, you just hop on the train…it’s creating for these other great cities of the north and the midlands a rival to London. And this hasn’t really come out,” he added.

Cover Image: ‘conservativeparty’ flickr account

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