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‘Think Birmingham’ launches calling for more powers and better funding for city

‘Think Birmingham’ launches calling for more powers and better funding for city

🕔16.Jul 2014

Chamberlain Files editor Kevin Johnson launches campaign which seeks fiscal devolution and real control over raising and spending money. The campaign is part of the Think Cities national platform, backed by leading think tank Centre for Cities.


Yesterday, the focus was on who’s in; who’s out. How many women make it to the Cabinet – even if not fully there in status or pay. The rise of the Eurosceptics and the demise of the male, pale and stale. All that – and the man Birmingham councillors and officers, not to mention teachers, love to hate – given a taste of disciplinary medicine before becoming responsible for, er, party discipline.

All fascinating stuff if you are an obsessive political observer like me. But, even more interesting than personality is policy – not least when it comes to public policy directly affecting Birmingham. Yesterday’s reshuffle effectively, as political journalists say, fired the starting gun on the 2015 election. So, today we turn our attention to helping to launch a new campaign, aimed at all parties, calling for a commitment to real devolution to Birmingham in their manifestos.

Think Birmingham calls for more powers and better funding for Birmingham. It launches as part of a national campaign ahead of the General Election, arguing that sustained national economic growth requires more powerful and better funded cities.

The campaign points out that:

• Three-quarters of people in marginal seats support more powers for local government to effect change in their area
• Think Birmingham will run until the General Election in May next year as part of a nationwide campaign
• The campaign calls for more powers and fiscal freedoms to be devolved to Birmingham, to boost prosperity, economic growth and improve standards of living.

The campaign responds to the growing consensus and ambition across the political spectrum in favour of greater local devolution in England. It makes the case that cities need more control over how they raise and spend money, and that cities need more control over the big decisions that affect the lives of those who live and work there.

We know that Birmingham has key strengths in business, professional and financial services; digital media; advanced manufacturing and life sciences. Birmingham is also a regional economic hub attracting increasing attention from international investors.

But Birmingham faces challenges too: one in six people have no formal qualifications and the number of graduates is too low. Birmingham needs the tools and flexibility to improve skills and get more people into jobs, alongside significant investment in infrastructure, such as the arrival of HS2, the £600 million New Street Station/Grand Central development and Resorts World Birmingham at the NEC. Delivering targeted support in these areas will deliver tangible results for residents and help to grow the economy in the longer-term.

For all major parties, the tide of public opinion calling for greater empowerment of cities is becoming too loud to ignore. Exclusive polling conducted by ComRes found that 73% of people in marginal seats would support greater powers for local government in their area, whilst only 33% of people think their local government currently has sufficient tools and powers to boost local economies.

With nearly two thirds of key marginal seats in city-regions, no political party can afford to disregard the momentum building for change. Think Birmingham builds on this opportunity, to make the case to politicians and policy-makers to give Birmingham a greater say in shaping its future.

As Paul Dale pointed out last week, the recent Growth Fund announcements are welcome news but they are far from true localism. We are still in the era of asking for money from ministers and mandarins in Whitehall and feeling their breath over our shoulders as we spend their loose change.

The next Parliament must provide for genuine localism and fiscal devolution. The tide appears to be flowing in the right direction, notably through the reports of Adonis and Heseltine and the speeches of Osborne, Miliband and Clegg. But we have been on the brink many times, not least in the last four years. So, we need to keep the pressure up and make the case for the powers and budgets that Birmingham needs to shape its own destiny.

One notable announcement yesterday was that the widely respected Minister for Cities, Greg Clark MP, was keeping that role as well as taking on responsibility for science and universities. It’s good news that the minister with a genuine commitment to cities and devolution is keeping the brief and adding a largely complementary area of policy to it. However, Clark is one of very few voices in government that is passionate about localism.

The national campaign platform unites city leaders from across the country to make the case for their cities. The campaign is already gaining traction, drawing a high number of influential national politicians, city leaders, key thinkers and policy-makers from across the country, to add their voice to the call for change.

Think Birmingham will bring together key voices from across the city to make the case for more powers and freedoms at a local level ahead of the next General Election. Over the next 10 months, we will be lobbying politicians across Birmingham and in Westminster, to make sure that the next Government ‘Thinks Birmingham’ after the next election. Only through better funding and more local authority powers will Birmingham be able to unlock the huge growth potential that exists within the city – for the benefit of the people who live here and as the UK’s economic engine.

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