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Helping our regional cities become more productive

Yesterday, Ed Miliband announced the most radical devolution of economic power to our country’s cities in over 100 years, with the aim of unlocking growth potential, building a stronger economy and creating thousands of higher-wage, private sector jobs. The impact on Lincoln — and Lincolnshire too — could be nothing short of huge.

Our national economy has long needed rebalancing away from the South East and towards our regional cities. Whilst every other city in the UK is below the national average on productivity, London is 40% above. With London propping up the national economy, this over-centralisation of power and a lack of investment in regional cities has been allowed to continue, much to our detriment.

If we really improve the growth and productivity of cities like Lincoln, with high-quality jobs and business investment, this will go a long way to restoring the link between growth and living standards which has become broken, causing a cost of living crisis. In Lincoln, we’ve seen prices rising faster than wages year after year, and people are worse off now than they were in 2010.

The answer to this problem can’t be insecure, low-paid jobs, exploitative zero-hours contracts, a ‘race to the bottom’ on pay and a continuing struggle to get by for people on average salaries. A stronger, more resilient economy is a more balanced one which provides decent jobs, decent pay, thriving small businesses, competitive markets and, most importantly, feels like it works for the majority of people, rather than just a few at the top.

To achieve this, Lincoln and other regional cities need to become real engines of growth, the motors which propel us towards a more balanced and stronger economy, from the middle outwards. But, for this to happen, cities need more powers, incentives, funding and more responsibility.

Yesterday, Ed Miliband wrote to the leaders of our City and County Councils, Greater Lincolnshire LEP and the University to set out these plans and to invite them to submit proposals for implementation within the first nine months of a Labour government.

The funding on offer is very significant: central government would guarantee the devolution of £20 billion to our regional cities. As part of the deal, our local authorities, LEP and the University would receive new powers to directly invest in infrastructure such as transport and housing. They’d also have greater control over skills budgets, alongside business control of the funding of apprenticeships, as well as leading on the delivery of the Work Programme. Most importantly however, they would be able to ensure that Lincoln and Lincolnshire benefits directly from the proceeds of growth in our area.

These greater powers would have to be implemented in accordance with an economic strategy clearly focused on the creation of well-paid jobs and improving productivity. That strategy would be developed by the authorities themselves and would have to be backed by public and private investment.

These plans to kickstart regional growth and investment would be assisted by another policy which Labour are committed to: the development of regional banking. Many small and medium-sized businesses in Lincoln have struggled over recent years to secure funding from the big high street banks, but these new, regional banks would only be able to invest in the regions they’re based in, giving SMEs a far better chance of securing the funds they need to grow, no matter where in the country they are.

All in all, these proposals could be incredibly significant for the development of our local economy and it’s entirely right that central government should be backing Lincoln to grow. The opportunity is there, all we need to do now is take it.