The annual Local Government Association (LGA) conference took place this week and it was great to join councils from across the country up in Harrogate. It is the biggest conference in the local government calendar and there was a real buzz around the centre with various insightful discussions taking place. It was also great to be there in person after the last few years kept things online only.
As the Chair of the LGA City and Regions Board, I hosted an event on Wednesday where we launched the Future of Cities hub alongside Cllr John Merry, Deputy Mayor of Salford, and Chair of Key Cities and Professor Greg Clark CBE, Chair of UK Cities Climate Investment Commission.
The Future of Cities hub brings together city leaders, academics, think tanks, urban artists, and writers to answer this key question: “What do we need our cities to be, and how do we get there?” With contributions from C40, Eurocities, Andy Burnham, and others, it is worth a read and is the start of an exciting piece of work I’ll be leading in the coming months.
The event saw a great turnout, with speeches focused on the importance of urban areas if we, as a country and globe, are to meet the challenges ahead, particularly in a world changed by the pandemic. It was fantastic to also be joined live by Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr from Freetown, Sierra Leone, who described to conference her aspirations for her city.
I was also invited to join a small group of leaders to a roundtable with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove MP. Conversation focused on economic growth and I made the point that central government funding of local authorities is highly fragmented. Around a third of the grants are currently awarded on a competitive basis yet we know this brings additional costs to councils and increases the difficulty of long-term planning. The discussion was constructive and there was much the LGA can now build on with their engagement with the Government.
It was also good to hear the Shadow Secretary of State, Lisa Nandy MP, address delegates, sharing Labour’s vision to “rebuild Britain”. Whilst she supports the aims of Levelling Up, I welcomed her suggestion that this plan needs to reflect trust in local government and give the necessary power to local leaders to deliver their visions for growth.
Across a busy few days, I also joined other council leaders at a Localis roundtable to discuss regeneration and how best to maximises our local centres, increase housing delivery, and drive places towards greater sustainability. As Chair of Core Cities UK, Harrogate was also an opportunity to meet up with city leaders in person to discuss our ambitions for the network.