Manchester the clear focus of George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’

In a previous (re)blog that was drafted by Brad  – The Mancunian Way or the Highway – it was clear that Manchester was very much at the heart of what Government (and George Osbourne) considered to be the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Personally, I think it’s up there with ‘hardworking families’ as the most over-used and un-understood(!) phrase. But, as The Guardian says, “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.”

In a blog posted in late 2014 Peter Heterington, writing in The Guardina wrote: “English councils will soon have lost almost a quarter of their funding in five years. Those most in need, such as Sheffield, are being hit hardest. It has happened on the watch of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. Since 2010, £238m has been removed from Sheffield city council’s budget, with a further £60m likely to be slashed next year. “We are facing the worst financial crisis in our history,” but authorities in the leafy south are faring far better than big cities such as Sheffield.”

Nine months on there remains a sniff of devolution, provided you play by the unwritten rules not in DCLG but in The Treasury. Manchester, with first mover advantage, has not only given Osbourne confidence because of its united front and its history of the Greater Manchester Authorities working in partnership, it has cleverly influenced his thinking from the inside. Nothing wrong with that of course. It’s only to be applauded that local government, albeit big authorities, are influencing ‘upwards’. But behind Manchester appears to be dawdling, indecision, infighting and a series of internal debates that amount to the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ to be echoing around town halls in the north and the midlands.

Osborne referenced the city regions of Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds – a particularly disputed region which includes York and parts of North Yorkshire – which he said were “working towards further devolution deals”. The government is also “making good progress towards a deal with Cornwall” and had also received proposals from the West and East Midlands, he said.

The one rule that seems to be a sticking point is that devolution needs an elected mayor, despite the appetite for this being zero in the cities who seek it. The Treasury’s insistence on an elected mayor had been a stumbling block throughout the process. Will mayors one day rule the world? 

 

How Smart Cities can combat climate change

In a blog published today Catherine Cameron sets out “How Smart Cities can combat climate change“.

Cameron opens with some well repeated facts: “Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and generate over 70% of global CO2 emissions. Cities are centres of commerce and culture but over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, exposing them to sea level rise and storm surges. Climate impacts such as storms, flooding and drought have financial impacts, with major disruption to business operations and city finances.”

As cities become home to a greater proprotion of the planet’s human population it’s only expected that cities face some of the biggest challenges, but also have some of the best resources, in facing climate change. “Cities are rising to this challenge. Urban density provides an opportunity for a better quality of life and a lower carbon footprint through more efficient infrastructure and planning. Low carbon mass public transport, cycle hire and walking, with higher density urban living, smart grids, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and garden cities can all add up“.

Those of you who read my tweets and blogs will know I am an advocate of open data to support smart cities. By ‘smart’ I mean: resilient, adaptable, integrated, intelligent, low impact, high value. Only this week there has been recognition of the opportunity to use smart data to achieve integration not just at neighbourhood or district level but at city and between cities scale. 

In a piece published only this week ICLEI USA Executive Director Michael Schmitz said “We want cities to be able to see all the things that contribute to their overall carbon footprint … If they have accurate data, and the ability to measure it, smarter policy decisions will be made.”

But before we can expect cities to be inherently ‘smart’ there are many faced with huge challenges of facing fundamental needs. With more than half the world’s population now in cities, scientists are warning that inadequate surface water supplies will leave many at increasing risk of drought and cities are facing failure of their most important, but often neglected, infrastructure.

The argument put forward by Cameron is one of leadership and governance being devolved to the city scale through elected and accountable mayors. This, of course, is well played out policy discussion in the UK – albeit there is a long way to go before there are elected mayors in all UK cities. Indeed, the concept of the ‘mayor’ is directive in itself. What cities need are effective decision making by accountable individuals and collectives who can take a longer term view of their city’s needs.

In a blog I wrote last October I said The last century has seen unprecedented change. The next 100 years could me make or break for the human species” and it will be in our cities that this unprecedented change will be felt most. Cities, as Cameron acknowledges are responding – and they need to. Not only are they home to the failing infrastructure, they are home to an ever more demanding and constrained population. A population that houses the very rich and the poorest of the poor. As city populations become more diverse, younger, older and living longer, the pressure created by climate change will only exacerbate the widening gap between those who can adapt and those who will, simply, fail. Successful cities need to be climate resilientWe are seeing what some have referred to as ‘global weirding’ – with abnormally high (or low), dry (or wet) seasons across the globe. Significant rainfall, falling in extreme bursts that our landuse patterns and drainage systems simply cannot cope with, has caused massive damage in the Indian Sub-Continent, China, Australia, the USA and Europe in the last couple of years. Close to home, here in the UK, we have seen a warmer summer for the first time since 2006. But that has come at a cost” wrote John Metcalfe in the excellent Atlantic Cities blog.

In conclusion, Cameron suggests setting targets has been successful and the C40 are mobilising knowledge transfer, ambition and progress. Targets set out an objective for inherently competitive humans to achieve. In doing so we should remember that collaboration between cities is every bit more important than competition if we are to succeed. 

Cities More Effective than National Government?…

Cities More Effective than National Government?….

From Miroslav Damyanov (via Linkedin) While national governments get less done – due to the fact they are cumbersome and stuck in party ideology – more problems (e.g., climate change, inequality, unemployment and crime) are solved at the city level. 

Worth watching the program VPRO Tegenlicht De macht aan de stad (EN: The Power of the City) : http://www.npo.nl/vpro-tegenlicht/28-09-2014/VPWON_1219700

 

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