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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.

The Government launched the Eat Out To Help Out scheme to support the hospitality sector and encourage people to return to restaurants and cafes. More than 64 million meals were sold as part of the scheme, but it had mixed successes in city and town centres up and down the country.

Using footfall and spend data from the Centre for Cities High Streets Recovery Tracker, Researchers Valentine Quinio and Lahari Ramuni join Chief Executive Andrew Carter to evaluate the scheme and to make recommendations for what should replace it.

The killing of George Floyd in the US, the Black Lives Matter protests and Covid-19 have shone a spotlight on many of the systemic injustices that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people still face.

From interactions with the police to structural inequalities in our public services and many statues' problematic legacies, cities - where people from different backgrounds come together - are frequently the places where this is experienced most acutely. 

This week, London's Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility, Community Engagement Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard joins Andrew Carter to discuss her role in this key year, the effect of Black Lives Matter on her work and the the role that devolved policy makers should play in making cities' fairer places for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people.

For lots of young people, leaving their hometowns to head to university or build a career is an important rite of passage. Many people still head to London in search of those streets paved with gold but, in recent years, other cities such as Manchester and Glasgow have also drawn in increasing numbers of people. 

However, as a new paper from the Social Mobility Commission - Moving Out to Move On -  shows, those who choose to move to prosperous cities such as London are usually more from privileged backgrounds and have university degrees. Meanwhile, people from less privileged backgrounds are less likely to move altogether - and those that do tend to move to less economically successful areas and, as a result, have fewer opportunities open to them, even after they move.   

To discuss this issue in more detail, Andrew Carter is joined by Dr Dafni Papoutsaki, Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies and co-author of the Social Mobility Commission's new report. 

Centre for Cities
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