PSI - Devo-city report

16 English cities could be lost in the gaps of the devolution jigsaw

By: Vicky Sargent @vickysargent
Published: Monday, December 1, 2014 - 18:37 GMT Jump to Comments

Devo-City, a report published today by Information Daily sister company Public Service Intelligence, shows what an England reorganised into ‘combined authorities’ might look like.

For those who haven’t been paying attention since the Scots bottled independence in September, combined authorities are the overarching bodies that allow groups of English councils to gain devolved powers and funding.

Chancellor George Osborne, who granted extensive ‘Devo Manc’ powers and funds to Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities in November, is widely expected to set out further devolution plans in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

Apart from Greater Manchester, five city regions are already recognised by the government, all of them single urban areas (Greater London as well as Greater Manchester), or city clusters, including West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, the North East, and Merseyside.

Other combinations are known to be under discussion: in the West Midlands, five councils – Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell - have already agreed to a combined authority. If Coventry and Solihull choose to join them, it will create the largest city region by population outside London.

As for the rest, there are some fairly obvious combinations, such as Greater Bristol, Tees Valley, and Thameside (not to be confused with Tameside), and others requiring more imagination like the M4 City Region and Solent City (a mash up of Southampton and Portsmouth).

However, as the report observes, even with these ‘city regions’ included, 41% of the UK population would still not be accounted for administratively. An obvious addition, it says, would be to offer greater powers to the 26 English county councils that still have subsidiary district councils (excluding Lancashire, which is exploring devolution with two neighbouring unitaries).

There are complications, like 10 unitary councils in former county areas, but the biggest headache for those-that-would-be-King are 16 ‘lost cities’, identified by the report, that are really hard to make into viable groupings. They include cities on the edges of the counties they used to belong to, such as Plymouth, Bournemouth, and Southend, new towns like Milton Keynes, and former county towns like Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. The report has some ideas about how the ‘lost cities’ issue can be resolved.

And what is the point of all this? The point is that it is happening. Now, at pace and at scale. Devo-city will ultimately mean devo-England, and that could have significant repercussions, not so much for citizens, who will probably feel little impact, but certainly for businesses that contract with local government. Sharing and collaboration is already creating fewer, larger customers. Devo-city will simply accelerate this trend.

Devo-City: a short guide to Britain’s devolved city regions in words and data is published today by public sector market intelligence provider Public Service Intelligence (PSIN). The report includes data on 17 actual and projected city regions across the UK, as well as commentary on the history and process of city devolution.  Figures for population and workplace gross value added are derived from Office of National Statistics data for 2013 and 2012 respectively; details are in the report. The report costs £10, but you can get a free copy by taking out a subscription to Council News Monitor, from PSIN to your in-box, that keeps you fully up to date regarding what is going on in the devolving regions.

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