Cities need to reinvent themselves, but some do it better than others. A new report explains whyby Jonathan Derbyshire / March 5, 2015 / Leave a comment
Last summer, I spent a few days in Manchester researching a piece about the city’s economic revival and its increasing prominence in national debates about the merits of dispersing power to Britain’s cities and regions. When I talked to significant political figures in the north-west, including the chief executive of Manchester City Council, Howard Bernstein, and Richard Leese, the Council leader, there was one question I kept asking: how has Manchester managed to handle its post-industrial transition so much better than its neighbour 30-odd miles down the M62, Liverpool?
Bernstein and Leese were too savvy to risk inflaming ancient rivalries by giving me a straight answer, though it was hard not to sniff an implied rebuke to Merseyside in Leese’s proud declaration that “what Manchester was first to do was to recognise the importance of scale… It’s now over a decade since we had the first Greater Manchester strategy [in which] the 10 local authorities joined up to agree a joint economic strategy…” Shortly before I met Leese, the newly created Liverpool City Region Combined Authority had got off to the worst possible start when the leader of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson, threatened to withdraw after a vote on the leadership of the new body was taken in his absence. The contrast with the two decades of stable leadership that had culminated in the formation of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in 2011 was impossible to miss.
A new report written by Paul Swinney and Elli Thomas of the Centre for Cities emphasises the importance of long-term economic planning at city-region level of the sort Leese was describing, especially in former industrial cities like Liverpool or Manchester that are trying to “reinvent” their economies. “The economy is not static,” Swinney and Thomas write. “It constantly evolves, and cities have to evolve with it. This means that in order to be successful, cities need to constantly encourage growth in new areas as old areas activity inevitably decline, as Manchester is increasingly doing.” Swinney and Thomas’s data suggests that Liverpool is making a much less convincing fist of this.
Their report is entitled A Century of Cities: Urban economic change from 1911 to 2013, and it aims to show how the kinds of…