Communities minister David Miliband is preparing to give city councils power over regional transport, planning, regeneration, economic development and other areas.

uk map

Building can reveal that officials at the ODPM are working on a white paper, New Deal for Cities, which is due to be launched in January. This is expected to outline measures to set up stronger local government structures, with a strategic remit in the “city regions”, that is, the areas around eight major cities in England (see map, right).

Other authorities in the cites are likely to be offered incentives to encourage them to hand over powers to the strategic bodies. The government is considering devolving some of its powers to them as well.

The collaboration between the councils and the strategic bodies would cover areas that are best handled at a regional level.

Councils in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire have already drawn up plans to set up executive boards with strategic responsibility in such areas. But although ministers are keen to see smaller versions of

Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Authority established in other big cities, they are unwilling to force councils to implement the proposals.

Compared with the rest of the country UK cities continue to lag economically

John Healey, Treasury minister

The rationale for the changes is to improve the economic performance of England’s conurbations.

At the recent Labour party conference a Treasury minister, John Healey, expressed concern that cities in the UK were continuing to lag behind the rest of the country, and that this was affecting the wider competitiveness of the economy.

The establishment of city-regional bodies will also help fill the gap between local and central tiers of government. Deputy prime minister John Prescott had planned to devolve power to regional assemblies but the first of these was rejected by voters in the North-east.

The New Deal will coincide with the publication of stage two of the State of the Cities report, which contains the biggest database collected on England’s 56 primary urban areas.

Tale of the cities

January 2003 State of the Cities report for the ODPM urges greater devolution of powers to “city regions”
November 2004 North-east voters reject plans to set up elected assembly in region
March 2004 Government’s Northern Way strategy says city regions should be focus of development in the north of England
May 2005 David Miliband appointed as communities secretary with a focus on cities