City deals set to open up a regional alternative in our local government
THE emergence of city deals could signal a new route to change in local government. They have been rolled out across the UK by successive chancellors of the exchequer and now every city in Scotland either has one or is working towards one.
The recent Scottish Government Enterprise and Skills Review recognised that they could have a role to play in reshaping the delivery of economic development.
For businesses involved in creating the infrastructure of a modern “smart” city – including transport systems, innovation districts, housing and waste management – city deals could generate a fresh new project pipeline. Attracting £3 billion of private investment is a stated target of the Glasgow City Deal.
Many Glasgow projects are already under way, such as the Tontine Centre for Business Incubation or the Imaging Centre of Excellence at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Next year works to upgrade Glasgow city centre start, beginning with Sauchiehall Street.
But it’s not simply the projects themselves that make city deal so interesting. A main reason why the Glasgow Economic Leadership group supported city deals was the change it would make to the way the eight local authorities of Greater Glasgow work together.
Tackling the economic challenges of a major city can’t be done only at one local authority level. Nor are they always best approached through national agencies, which often see an issue only through the lens of their stated remit.
The Glasgow labour market and commuter transport system are essentially regional. Clusters of business, like those of the Glasgow Bio-Corridor in health and life sciences, also reflect the regional labour market. Manchester is an example of a combined local authority model, with 10 councils working together to tackle transport, housing and economic development.
I’ve read much about whether we are over-centralising our governance through Holyrood, whether we should be reducing the number of local authorities, or indeed devolving decisionmaking to even smaller neighbourhoods. City deals open up a regional alternative that doesn’t need to mean changing council boundaries.
As we design the new enterprise and skills system in Scotland, perhaps this time we can decide what needs to be done at three different levels – nationally, locally and also regionally. Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.