Twenty years ago, London became the first city in the UK to establish a directly elected mayor, marking the beginning of two decades of local government transformation. Since then the three Mayors of London have shaped the capital, and set a precedent for the creation of similar positions in other English cities.

To discuss the office of Mayor of London – its origins, powers, limitations and future – Andrew Carter is joined by Professor Tony Travers, Visiting Professor in LSE Department of Government, Director of LSE London and co-author of London's Mayor at 20: Governing a Global City in the 21st Century.

The pandemic has hit the UK's biggest cities hardest. In Newcastle's centre, overall footfall is currently at 43 per cent of what it was before Covid. This recovered to only 80 per cent when restrictions were relaxed over the summer — mainly because those who could do so continued to work from home.

This week, Andrew Carter is joined by Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, Chair of Core Cities Chief Executives Group and Chair of the Government Property Agency.

Pat and Andrew discuss the biggest challenges for Newcastle, including how the city has been impacted by Covid-19 and what the council is doing to respond. They also explore how the future for Newcastle might look in the context of city devolution, levelling up, and building back better. Finally, Pat responds to the Government's announcement on the planning algorithm and reflects on how councils and central government have been working together on Covid.

Covid-19 restrictions have pushed concern about air quality down the political agenda. Many councils that had been planning to introduce measures to reduce air pollution levels in their cities have postponed or cancelled them.

Despite this, after an initial drop in air pollution this year it has since been rising again. As a result, NO2 levels have now hit or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in around 80% of places studied according to new research by Centre for Cities and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

To discuss this issue in more detail, Andrew Carter is joined by the authors of the new research Centre for Cities’ Valentine Quinio and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air’s Hubert Thieriot.

For thousands of years people have been drawn to cities for trade, learning, religion, power and entertainment. From Ancient Uruk and Rome through to modern megacities such as New York and Shanghai, cities have shaped the way people interact and driven human progress forward.

To discuss in more detail how cities have shaped history, bestselling writer and author of a new book Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind's Greatest Invention, Ben Wilson, joins Andrew Carter for this episode of City Talks.

He argues that with over half the world's population now living in cities, and cosmopolitanism under attack from nationalist sentiment, it has never been more important to understand cities and the role they have played in making us who we are.

 

At the end of next month, the UK will leave the Brexit transition period and, if a trade deal with the EU is not agreed, will begin trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.

The EU currently is the largest export market for every single city and large town in Britain and so trading under these terms would be damaging to local economies, particularly those in Northern England that are more reliant on trade with the bloc.

For this episode of City Minutes Researcher Tom Sells joins Andrew Carter to discuss his new analysis of the export profiles and key trading partners of Britain’s cities, and what the future could hold for their economies as we exit the transition period.

Business rates are one of the most important taxes for local government, yet our current system has come under huge scrutiny in recent years. The tax has been blamed for the struggles of retailers, the death of the high street and for exacerbating the country’s economic divides.

How should the business rates system be reformed?

For this episode of City Minutes Andrew Carter is joined by Centre for Cities' Senior Analyst Kathrin Enenkel and Researcher Tom Sells to discuss their new work setting out the problems with the current system and how they should be fixed.

From HS2 to Northern Powerhouse Rail to a proposed Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge, improving the infrastructure that links us together is a key cornerstone of the Government’s levelling up agenda.

What role does infrastructure play in creating economic growth? How should local political leaders be involved in commissioning projects in their areas? And have the huge changes brought about by Covid-19 changed the UK’s future infrastructure priorities?

To discuss these issues, and more, Andrew Carter is joined by Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission and former Chief Executive of Network Rail. He is also the author of the independent Armitt Review of long-term infrastructure planning in the UK.

Covid-19 has made the job of levelling up the UK much harder than it was a year ago. While the Government grapples with the economic and public health effects of the pandemic, many of the policies planned to grow cities’ and towns’ economies – from the devolution white paper to the Green Book review – have been postponed.

So what does the future hold for the levelling up agenda and the people and places it was intended to help?

To get a sense of this Andrew Carter spoke to local and national politicians from the two main political parties:

  • Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • Councillor Abi Brown, Conservative Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council
  • Councillor Peter Lamb, Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council
  • Ben Bradley MP, Conservative MP for Mansfield

The Government plans to reform the Green Book of guidance on how it invests public money. This follows criticism from politicians and other commentators who have suggested that, in its current form, the Green Book inhibits the levelling up agenda by skewing infrastructure investment towards London and the South East.

Are these criticisms fair? And how should the Government use a reformed Green Book to make investment decisions to level up the country?

To discuss this Andrew Carter is joined by Anthony Breach, author of Centre for Cities’ new report Re-writing the Green Book for Levelling Up.

Reform of England’s local government system is long overdue. There are currently 349 local and combined authorities with overlapping responsibilities and competing interests. This bureaucratic and complex system makes long-term strategic decision making difficult and holds back the places that need to be levelled up.

In his latest report Centre for Cities’ Policy Officer Simon Jeffrey proposed redrawing the English political map, replacing the 348 existing authorities with 69 unitary or combined ones with greater powers and resources and whose political boundaries match the economic geography in which people live and work.

For this episode of City Minutes, he joins Andrew Carter to discuss his proposals in more detail.


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