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Time for UK cities and regions to Grow Together

Dr David Lutton, Executive Director, Policy, London First

The rivalry that exists between UK cities and regions has been passed down over generations. Every part of the country takes pride in its history, culture and dialect. Such pride spills over into dynamic competition when jobs and money are at stake. Where should a blue-chip research and development centre be sited? Who most deserves infrastructure funds from central government or a tranche of foreign direct investment?

Brexit shone a light on what divides the UK. Despite renewed political focus, EY’s latest regional economic forecast suggests the UK is still becoming more geographically imbalanced. The north-south divide will continue to expand over the next three years – although at a slower rate than previously. EY predicts that gross value added (GVA) growth for London and the south east would average 2.2% and 2% respectively compared to 1.8% for the wider UK, with the capital also experiencing the fastest increase in regional employment.

Yet the UK is small and urban. Its cities and regions should be benefiting from their proximity to each other. Every part of the UK has prime capabilities and world class assets, with the potential to improve productivity and greatly enhance the UK’s international competitiveness and trading performance.

London First, along with the Northwest Business Leadership Team, Business North and Northern Powerhouse think it’s time to act. Over the last few months we’ve set out on a journey with the intention that our chosen UK regions will grow together.

Our report, published today, celebrates the contribution of region assets and capacities, as well as clusters of industry excellence which cut across the country. These are assets on which to build to drive growth and meet the challenge of Brexit. London sets the growth pace, but if we can raise the growth of other cities and regions then the whole of the UK benefits: the prize is an additional £208bn, equivalent to four new economies the size of Birmingham.

Together we identified three key themes on which future collaboration will be built:

  • Lobbying together to correct the UK’s historic underinvestment on infrastructure, and making the case for vital schemes like Crossrail 2, connecting the Midlands to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail;
  • Regional devolution has been championed as the best way to distribute the nation’s earnings more fairly, but it needs to go further and we’ll be making the case of further devolution with funding and fiscal powers; and
  • We’re committed to working together to shared ideas and best practice about how to solve local challenges, like skills and housing.

This is not to sacrifice our individual priorities. Rest assured, rivalry and local pride has not been dimmed. But, with a once-in-a-generation opportunity ahead, we know that more unites us than divides us. Our intention is to signal to government that business groups across the UK are coming together and committing to work more closely with each other to ensure the regions are better connected, share learning, and grow together post-Brexit.

We’ll be formally launching the report in on 24th May in Manchester, and over the summer we have several work streams and events planned with our partners. Members interested should contact dlutton@londonfirst.co.uk

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