The Mayor of Bristol has urged the government to closely work with Britain’s core cities to “unleash their energy” in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Marvin Rees told the Voice of Authority’s webinar series that urban hubs around the UK are ready to collaborate to drive the economic fightback post-Covid 19, but are being hamstrung by a lack of communication from central government.
Blaming a “failure of governance” that has grown over decades, the mayor said cities want certainty over major development and infrastructure projects so they can plan ahead and organise local supply chains.
“When someone is drowning they need to allow themselves to be saved and not think that thrashing around is going to save them”, he told the webinar. “Relax, work with us, co-operate and we can do some of that rescuing.
“The fire power of all these local authorities and major cities (can be) directed towards a joint approach to economic recovery and survival in the first instance.
“You could unleash a lot of energy, but at the moment too much of our energy is spent reacting to government, trying to work out what it means, and trying to predict in our crystal balls what it might say next.”
Mayor Rees called “predictable finance” in the weeks and months post-lockdown, saying “bankable partnerships” would boost the confidence of cities and allow for long-term strategic planning.
“We could plan, but we can’t plan when we find out and we are on the back foot, we are being disadvantaged”, he added.
The mayor was speaking at a webinar sponsored by developer First Base, whose director of partnerships Olaide Oboh was on the panel of guest speakers with Chris Murray, director of Core Cities UK and Ken Nettleship, a business expansion specialist at Invest in Nottingham.
Murray told viewers that the eight English core cities are facing an estimated £1 billion deficit, and he believes the urban hubs need “national and local state intervention” to survive the post=pandemic recession.
“Starting with de-industrialisation, we just did not invest properly in the economies of our cities and city regions outside of the south east”, he said. “The result of that has been a set of structural issues within the UK economy, particularly in regions and city regions outside the southeast, that have been accelerated and worsened by current crisis.
“If we don’t address those underlying structural challenges in the UK economy, the recession we are facing will be far worse and far longer than it needs to be.”
He urged for focus on investing in skills, innovation, research and development, and digitisation, and added that the economic response to coronavirus must not be centralised to avoid “disaster”.
Nettleship said he has observed at least a 60 per cent reduction in investment activity compared to the same time last year, when work was at a peak, and Nottingham has already suffered job losses as a result of coronavirus.
However, he said they are still receiving inquiries from firms looking to move to the UK or relocate out of London.
“We’ve seen a lot of foreign investment that seems to be interested in the UK right now, and interested in a post Covid world”, he said.
“The sectors we’re seeing are around health tech, e-health, a lot of innovation businesses that are looking to come into the UK and provide solutions into what the new world will look like, whether in terms in health care provisions or new products and services that will be more web-based that they have been previously.”
Olaide told the webinar First Base has a “people centred” approach to its work, and urged that future development should – more than ever – reflect the needs of the communities they will serve.
“The focus on growing our local economy has to be a positive out of all of this”, she said.
“I think it is very often that we see places where people just leave, you leave for work and spend your money somewhere else.
“Much more of that focus on our local economy and supporting jobs and supporting industry in our local economy has to be a good thing.”
Oboh added: “We can’t underestimate the impact of the trauma people have been through”, saying that both physical and mental health are “absolutely important” for companies to remember.
The next webinar is on housing for key workers and learn more head to www.thevoiceofauthority.co.uk/webinar.