Local politicians need to be empowered to ensure growth and prosperity in their region, the Mayor of Newham has said.
Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of the London borough of Newham, host of the Olympic Games has said that elected mayors should be given “greater freedom” over decisions in their local area.
Speaking at a fringe event at Labour conference organised by think tank IPPR North in conjunction with KPMG, Wales cited a number of areas, such as housing, over which he would like greater control.
Agreeing with Wales, shadow communities minister Jack Dromey said that central government often struggle to “let go”.
In recent years he said that governments have had increasingly centralising tendencies, and often struggle between “localism and Leninism”.
He welcomed some of the steps the coalition government has taken in the direction of localism and praised financial secretary Greg Clark for his work on the localism agenda.
“We have to set local government free to deliver”, he said.
Drawing on the experience of KPMG in helping local governments around the world, Kru Desai, head of local and regional government at KPMG said there are “three key features” to creating successful economic growth in cities.
Firstly Desai noted the importance of infrastructure, but crucially not “infrastructure for infrastructures sake”, but infrastructure that helps communities progress, for example through providing an alternative to other more costly modes of transportation.
On the importance of funding for a region Desai drew on the recent work KPMG has carried out with Manchester to help them broker a 'City Deal' with the Treasury, which will allow the city new powers to create jobs and train local people with the right skills to fill them.
Finally Desai spoke of the importance of governance and leadership, although noting that it is an asset to a region to have an elected mayor, she said what is actually needed is ‘political leadership’, to bring assets in the community, such as the private sector and universities, together.
She said it is the “age for local government to take control” and at present there are a lot of examples of such control being exerted.
Rather than a vision for the country as a whole, Desai said it is important to draw on the “unique feature” of a region.
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chamber of Commerce said there is “no silver bullet for urban prosperity and economic growth.”
He called on the government to reallocate national spending towards infrastructure and in some cases to allocate funding to local communities so they can stipulate what should be spent where to encourage growth.
“Just let local people and local economies get on with this”, he said.
Councillor for Dudley and LGA Labour Group leader, David Sparks OBE reiterated this sentiment, saying:
“We cannot have anymore centralist solutions that originate in Whitehall because they just will not work”.