By Kru Desai, KPMG in the UK
The devolution of power to authorities across the UK is great news for cities. Having greater control over their spending decisions will allow city authorities to develop the services that best meet the needs of their residents. A joined-up approach to tackling the issues facing individual communities will be more sustainable, more effective and better value for money.
The UK is the most centralized form of government in the Western hemisphere. Increased devolution of powers to city authorities means they can make decisions on budgets and spending, based on their specific knowledge of that community, local infrastructure and its needs. Bristol will not have the same requirements as Bradford, Bangor or Belfast. Letting city leaders make the decisions that directly affect their city has to be good news.
The relative freedoms and financial flexibility provided by the new City Deals also gives city authorities the opportunity to take an integrated approach to tackling issues facing their communities. Combining the projected income stream from central government into a single pot allows an integrated approach to spending that should ultimately reduce overall costs.
Of course, the benefits will not be seen overnight. It takes at least 10 to 15 years to see positive outcomes from these programs, but then City Deals are measured over 20 to 30 years. As long as city authorities can show progress according to agreed milestones, and they stick to their programs, they should reap the rewards in the areas that most affect them.
This bold new approach requires an equally clear vision of what each city wishes to achieve, combined with strong leadership and a single point of accountability. It also requires some juggling of the priorities of different sections of the community. Cities must create an environment that fulfils the needs of all their stakeholders, from business to the public sector to individuals.
This approach can promote sustainability as long as it is a mainstream part of the agenda. That is not to say that it is not possible to promote green initiatives under the existing system – after all, some cities will not receive devolved authority. They will still be free to promote sustainable policies.
Making sustainability mainstream with a coherent approach across the entire city authority will be more effective, rather than paying lip service a series of piecemeal initiatives. Devolved cities have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the agenda for their locality, and work towards the environment that they want to create for their future citizens.