“City Finance Commission: setting cities free…”
Went to the launch today of a report by this “commission” set up by Birmingham, Manchester and ‘central London’. It’s essentially a call for the decentralisation of government budgets to cities and to capture the mood of the coalition in favour of growth. I have yet to read the report so this is a first reaction. It calls for business interests to have more say in city policy, for cities to retain increments of UBR , for government spending in cities to be merged in a single pot run by the cities, for pilot tests (implicitly in their 3 cities), for more BIDs and TIFs.
There is a strong real estate membership in the commission: the chair is Stuart Lipton (Stanhope) and they have Francis Salway (described as Land Securities tho’ surely he left), Roger Bright (Crown Estate) . Then there is Alex Jones (Centre for Cities), Bridget Rosewell (GLAEconomics), Tony Travers (LSE), Steve Freer (CIPFA), Mike Emmerich (New Economy, formerly U of Manchester) Nick Raynsford (formerly Labour Minister of CLG) and Michael Hayman (ex-Treasury, now Coutts and Co).
I asked how they had handled the problem that permitting rich cities to retain more of the tax generated there would reinforce the concentration of activity in cities and regions with overheated housing and land markets, especially London, with all the ill effects including loss of competitiveness resulting. Bridget was asked to reply and said it’s not a zero-sum game: by encouraging growth in the places which could generate growth we would see flows of spending which would remove bottlenecks. (My paraphrase – I’ll ask her to comment).
But there were no very challenging questions. Most of the 100 or so people in the House of Commons dining room seemed happy bunnies. I did wish Elena Besussi had been there to ask a more incisive question. Those asking whether it was city councils or regional governments which should have these powers got the vaguest of replies, including that perhaps LEPs would turn out to be good at it. (No mention of their lack of powers, accountability, etc.).
It feels like the next stage of the hegemonic discourse unfolding.
There is a web site but curiously it seems (today) to be months out of date and doesn’t contan the report. http://www.cityfinancecommission.co.uk/ (next day: they have put it up.)
From that meeting to one at the Café Diplo where the speaker is on steady state economics. Some contrast I hope.
A steady-state economy: should we? could we? by David Woodward
[ David Woodward is an independent writer and researcher on the global economy and development. He was head of the New Global Economy programme at nef (the new economics formation) and previously worked as an economist for the Foreign Office, the World Health Organisation and Save the Children (UK).]
His argument is grounded in environmental limits and confronts the problem that growth is essential to accumulation. Nice metaphor: if you were designing something to sit in it would be more like an armchair than like a bicycle. But capitalism is like a bicycle: without forward motion it falls over.
Very sensible proposals to de-link pensions from investment etc etc. and many other things. But basically very pessimistic. It would be interesting to have a text of his talk as a statement of the argument. Depressing and without much stimulus. I still prefer Harvey’s Enigma of Capital (except for it’s a silly title).
Tomorrow to Birmingham for meeting of Planners Network
PNUK Beyond con-dem-nation at Birmingham
Among allies in discussion of what coalition is doing, what their intentions may be, what contradictions they are bringing in… and what we should do afterwards.
Some disagreements whether to focus on next year or two and look for opportunities lurking in the nastiness or instead focus on policy for a subsequent government.
Interesting perspective from the mainly-midlands participants. They clearly have problems of traditional tension between B and its surroundings. Stout defence of Green Belt from a number of speakers, including on grounds that a splurge of house building around B would lead to an exodus of middle-income people from inner areas where housing would be abandoned….
Main debate was on regional policy. Some, notably Peter Studdert, argued that it was quite unrealistic to do other than acommodate the growth where it could arise – e.g. in his Cambridge – with so little public money available to offer regional subsidies. Anything else would undermine our credibility. Many others took different views, insisting that rebalancing within the nation was an essential part of any alternative strategy. I made an intervention saying (i) not just a UK problem but serious at European scale with relations between the core and the periphery spiralling and the EU abdicating. (ref Grahl 2011 below ) (ii) some of us challenge the urgency of the debt problem and, on the contrary, would increase state expenditure as part of recovery (iii) not all regional development measures involve extra state spending—some is a matter of where to put the BBC, particle acellerators, university expansion, (iv) some would be achieved by refusing to underwrite the growth of the SE by massive state spending on infrastructure like Crossrail and the inevitable bailout of water companies. A Birmingham speaker said they could have paid for every single element of their regional wish-list if they had the Crossrail money. (ref Massey, Amin and Thrift, Recentering the Nation, 2003, Catalyst Press.).
This one is a hot potato.
One outcome of the meeting may be an attempt to formulate a model ‘neighburhood plan’ in opposition to whatever Tesco may prepare. (Someone said: “Tesco oven-ready neighbourhood plan: every little helps.” Nice). I sang the praises of “lifetime neighbourhoods” as an ingredient for this. See the evidence to the London Plan EiP from the London tenants Federation and London Forum. (refs to follow)
Another outcome will be working on proposals for planning under a new government….
Strong support for making common cause / alliances with equivalent groups in health, welfare, housing, regional economic development, etc etc…
Soundings issue 47 Spring 2011 has two relevant papers:
Michael Burke Who benefits from the crisis in Ireland? [badly named: it is equally about all 4 of the PIGS countries, very careful on the differences between their experiences, including the role of construction ]
John Grahl Crisis in the Eurozone