Memorandum by Stoke-on-Trent City Council
This submission attempts to address the questions
posed by the Committee within a vision of non-hierarchical city
regions, based on competitiveness and innovation. They would highlight
bottom up and cross-cutting forms of governance and thereby complement
the existing matrix of administrative regions which have an explicitly
top down focus. Regional and other administrative boundaries are
currently a barrier to competitiveness, and their impact should
be softened by giving city region partnerships the flexibility
to cross these.
1.1 Good systems of governance must be tailored
to meet the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve
and deliver all-round improvements to their quality of life. At
the very least, they should guarantee a community's social, economic
and environmental sustainability. This basic premise applies to
all territorial units, from transnational jurisdictions like the
EU down to local neighbourhoods. Experience also suggests that
formal governance systems succeed to the extent that they support,
and are supported by, a diversity of less formal (extra- and non-governmental)
1.2 From that perspective, problems arise
where the formal structures of governance are not well matched
to the evolving social, economic and environmental characteristics
of the communities they serve. A recognised weakness in the UK
is that its formal governance structures at each level remain
skewed in favour of top-down policies and programmes. Successive
governments have promoted initiatives that aim to "roll back
the frontiers of the state". But these have largely failed
because they have been unable to devise a formula into which the
competing demands of top-down, bottom-up and (increasingly) cross-cutting
decision-making processes can be sensitively factored.
2. LINKING THE
2.1 There are inherent difficulties in imposing
a "one size fits all" philosophy on local government
structures throughout England. The country's urban system does
not correspond to a neat, pyramid-shaped hierarchy, with centres
of roughly equivalent size and functions distributed fairly evenly
across the regions. The reality, as recognised in the Regional
Planning Guidance for the West Midlands
and other key strategy documents, is that the urban system is
polycentric. It continues to evolve in response to a diverse range
of stimuli. Some towns and cities grew as market and service centres
for their surrounding areas. Others, like Stoke-on-Trent, owe
their existence more to manufacturing and/or extractive industries,
based on the local availability of materials of production. Others
developed as ports or transport centres. Others have mixed origins,
while a number constitute "special cases".
2.2 With economic change over time, these
distinctions have in some cases blurred and in others become more
marked. London remains by far England's largest and most important
city, despite the efforts of politicians and planners to "buck
the market". Yet it is impossible to agree on what is the
UK's second or third city, or how England is divided up into regions
of any description, without bringing political considerations
or value judgements into play.
3. CITY REGIONS
3.1 The term "city region" is
widely used in the current debate, but less often defined in a
manner that is consistent or sophisticated. Added to this, other
geographical concepts such as "core cities", "urban
fields" and "hinterlands" are used interchangeably.
The Government itself does not seem to have a clear definition
of city regions. It is, however, very interested in the phenomenon
of competitiveness and how this can be maximised by using cities
as "production units" for competitiveness. Much research
in this field has been US-based. When its methodology is applied
to European cities and their regions, studies have concluded that
very few of theseand only London in the UKrank among
the world's top 50 competitive cities. The proposed new wave of
local government reform provides an excellent opportunity for
structures to be re-designed in a way that supports competitiveness,
innovation, inclusivity and a clear sense of "belonging".
3.2 The phrase "core cities" has
come to denote the eight large urban centres where Central Government
Regional Offices and major agencies are located. A large population
is not the sole criterion here: Nottingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne
have respective populations only slightly greater than Stoke-on-Trent.
Nor is it necessary for a region to have only one core city: the
North West has Manchester and Liverpool, while Leeds and Sheffield
both enjoy this status in Yorkshire and Humberside. The core city
for the South East and the East of England is London.
3.3 Emphatically, core cities are service
centres for the "top down" diffusion of policy, rather
than drivers of regional, cultural or economic cohesion. It could
be argued that Carlisle, in the North West Region, is more strongly
linked to Newcastle than Manchester, and the cultural ties between
Bristol and the Commonwealth are more apparent than those it enjoys
with Cornwall. To explain the production, distribution and exchange
of goods and services in North Staffordshire/South Cheshire in
terms of a tributary relationship with Birmingham would be to
contradict the socio-economic realities. These include on the
one hand, a series of service functions that are largely self-contained
at the sub-regional level, and on the othernotably with
the ceramics sectora nexus of transnational supply chains.
3.4 City Regions, by contrast, have a broader,
multi-faceted reality beyond ministerial directives and performance
monitoring. They embody processes that Storper and Salais describe
as "untraded interdependencies".
Untraded interdependencies exist outside the economic sphere.
Firms are attracted to particular urban areas less because of
infrastructure and transportation advantages than because of the
benefits of being close to other customers, suppliers and competitors
where this proximity leads to shared understandings and transactions.
An excellent example of an untraded interdependency is North Staffordshire's
ceramics cluster. The concept works well for this and other established
clusters. But it is notably less successful when applied to the
"emerging" and "aspirational" clusters that
still tend to underpin DTI, Treasury and Regional Development
Agencies' (RDAs) understanding of regional competitiveness.
4. AN UNCLEAR
4.1 The boundaries of England's administrative
regions are quite simply thatadministrative ones. They
do not demark cultural watersheds or self-contained market areas,
and are not well placed to influence market forcesnotably
globalisationat the macrolevel. They began as strategic
military areas during the interwar years, and are essentially
what Prof Michael Parkinson has described as "territorial
agencies to deliver policies made elsewhere."
A clear expression of this is the growth by stealth of powerful
institutions such as Government Offices for the Regions (GOs)
and RDAs since the mid 1990s and the conversion of regional chambers
into regional assemblies whose members are not directly elected.
The process of trying to align these regional jurisdictions with
more locally-accountable entities has been tortuous. To most laypersons,
the phrase "West Midlands" has a greater resonance with
the former Birmingham-centred metropolitan county than a large
and diverse region embracing North Staffordshire and the Welsh
4.2 Recently, coalitions of RDAs working
with key partners have led initiatives, such as the Northern Way,
aimed at promoting a united economic vision between administrative
regions. Although the Northern Way has been hailed as a positive
step, and undoubtedly introduces fresh elements of additionality,
it still represents a top-down, core city focus on regional economies.
Although broad in scope, it is not holistic, and dwells more on
figurative categorisations than the inherent potential of diverse
communities to foster economic growth through creativity and innovation.
4.3 The process of binding together administrative
regions for such a purpose does not solve the problems of non-alignment
referred to in paragraph 2.2 above. It merely pushes them down
the list of RDAs' strategic priorities. Indeed, the drafting of
the Midlands Way asin parta riposte to the Northern
Way indicates that the current system of regional governance is
as likely to engender perceived threats and rivalries as genuine
cohesion between regions.
4.4 There are particular implications for
a city regionlike Stoke-on-Trent's- whose sphere of influence
crosses local and regional administrative government boundaries.
Our city region's mix of identities, opportunities and problems
extends beyond the West Midlands into both the North West and
East Midlands. Yet our capacity to address these through "single
pot" programmes or spatial strategies ends with the regional
boundary. By contrast, the EU's portfolio includes numerous funding
mechanisms to promote transnational partnerships. Added to this,
the technical networks and knowledge bases used in a government
sphere are tightly drawn around regional boundaries. In Stoke-on-Trent,
we have better data about certain districts on the fringe of the
South West region than with our near neighbours in South Cheshire.
4.5 Because English regions are top-down
institutions that can engender a "silo" culture, these
issues cannot be effectively addressed through boundary changes.
There is, however, a strong case for bringing forward institutional
reforms that would promote a greater diversity of measures to
support bottom-up and cross-cutting initiatives within and between
regions. This would not compromise the crucial role that regional
institutions play in policy formation, monitoring and review.
But it would help free local, sub-regional and thematic delivery
bodies to implement projects and programmes more effectively and
accountably. Such an approach would also help regional institutions
in meeting their remits through policies and programmes that are
better linked to community aspirations and capacities. And because
of the greater scope for meaningful inter-regional co-operation,
it would promote the better use of resources and national cohesion.
5. HOW MIGHT
5.1 Our Council is promoting a new, integrated
vision for governance throughout the UK, where competitiveness
and innovation are supported through a non-hierarchical network
of City Regions. Each City Region would be driven by an agenda
focussing as much around local identities as on formal administrative
structures. In that respect, they would complement England's nine
administrative regions, which are not self-contained economic
units or foci for expressing local loyalties.
5.2 Equally, a citizen-focused democracy
cannot be built around forms of governance that relate less to
local identities than administrative hierarchies, or that involve
an unsustainable degree of "top slicing" in favour of
core cities. In that regard, our Council is working with neighbouring
local authorities, public, private, voluntary and community sector
partners throughout our City Region to design policies and deliver
outcomes that will bring sustainable all-round benefits for every
5.3 Stoke-on-Trent lies at the heart of
a North Staffordshire/South Cheshire City Region, whose urban
and rural communities are linked together through a rich and changing
mix of cultural and economic factors. It encompasses a conurbation
of around 400,000 residents and a wider area with more than double
that population. This is in turn set within a polycentric urban
system at West Midlands and national levels.
5.4 Our future prosperity depends on being
well connected to our neighbours, and working in partnership with
them to deliver shared goals. Our case for articulating the North
Staffordshire/South Cheshire City Region supports established
regional and national policy, and this underscores our partnership
working at every level. By way of a few examples, the ODPM's Local
Area Agreements Guidance sees LAAs as a real opportunity to facilitate
joint working between all the appropriate partners. Our draft
LAA has been designed specifically around a City Region approach.
5.5 The Regional Planning Guidance for the
West Midlands (RPG) seeks to deliver regeneration through urban
and rural renaissance, diversifying the regional economy and modernising
the transport infrastructure. Our City Region would help deliver
the RPG by giving added value to the outcomes, indicators and
targets listed in its framework and by enhancing the potential
for match funding streams.
5.6 The West Midlands Regional Economic
Strategy (RES) promotes growth through synergy between the region's
diverse elements. It places its highest priority on a set of challengesenterprise,
manufacturing, skills, transport and economic inclusion. It showcases
sub-regional economic partnerships and Regeneration Zones (RZs)
as holistic ways to address those challenges in deprived areas.
The North Staffordshire RZ is now operating to a City Region agenda.
Renew, North Staffordshire's housing market pathfinder, bases
its strategic rationale of local sustainability around our City
5.7 Our Integrated Economic Development
Strategy seeks to make our area "the city region of choice
for one million people by 2021".
We are particularly aware of our strong, ongoing linkages with
large tracts of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Shropshire, and the potential
of our City Region to provide the sort of dynamic, inter-regional
partnership the UK needs to retain its international competitiveness.
As a result, we are engaging more widely with new partners from
all sectors (particularly innovative businesses) and from neighbouring
6. OUR CITY
6.1 The ODPM Report Cities, Regions and
offers an excellent framework for sustainable City Regions by
setting out the special contributions that urban and rural areas
bring to the mix. This list of urban-rural contributions can be
used as a simple but effective health check on a locality's level
of preparedness to embrace a City Region agenda. We are following
the rationale of Cities, Regions and Competitiveness in showing
how we and our partners will enrich the relationships that define
our City Region, as illustrated in the outline descriptions below.
6.2 Contributions from our City
6.2.1 Critical Mass of Knowledge Institutions
and a Vibrant Environment for Knowledge Creation and Transfer
North Staffordshire's two universities and Further
Education institutions are key symbols of its cultural identity.
They work with schools, training providers, employers and the
wider community to raise aspirations and provide more inclusive
learning opportunities. Keele University's Science Park and medical
faculty, the Staffordshire University "Quarter", Stoke
College's construction industry training programmes and Business
Innovation Centres are driving this forward. Programmes such as
Building Schools for the Future and Closing the Gap will help
build a sustainable local knowledge economy.
6.2.2 Strategic Business and Financial Services
and the Connectivity to Attract Higher-Value Business
This sector is crucial to the articulation of
our city region, but is still under-represented locally. A keynote
of successful city regions is the presence of corporate headquarters,
including government offices, banks and consultancies. We are
working to support city centre regeneration through a new business
district and to bring relocated Civil Service jobs to North Staffordshire.
6.2.3 Concentrations of Highly Paid, Attractive
Jobs and "Key Influencers"
We recognise that North Staffordshire is not
well favoured for executive employment. In part, this is due to
the quality of the local housing stock and the physical environment.
RENEW North Staffordshire is helping to secure a broader local
social and economic mix by linking the provision of better quality
housing to the wider regeneration framework. An integrated City
Region would attract high quality jobs and provide the conditions
for bringing in yet more in the long term.
6.2.4 Concentrations of Cultural, Leisure and
Sports Facilities/Transport Hubs
A City Region framework would enable our cultural,
leisure and transport offers to be properly articulated, and accentuate
our strategic links with the North West and the East Midlands.
Work to progress this includes the improvement of Stoke City Centre's
Cultural Quarter, Staffordshire University's Media Centre, and
new proposals for the city's stadiums linked to the 2012 Olympics.
Local partners are delivering highway improvements, better public
transport options and new, green travel alternatives.
6.2.5 A National and International Profile
A City Region's identity depends as much on
recognition by those beyond its boundaries as local stakeholders.
It must be outward-looking and seek out potential markets. Our
acclaimed ceramics cluster is a defining element, but our long
term offer must be more inclusive and flexible. Biomedical and
design technology, already well represented, will be part of that
offer, supported by an expanded services sector. Transnational
links are expanding between local partners and medical technology
businesses in Bavaria. We shall also be progressing an integrated
marketing strategy for our City Region.
6.3 Contributions from the Region
6.3.1 Cities, Regions and Competitiveness
gives equal attention to what surrounding areas can offer cities
within a regional framework. These include:
Space for economic and infrastructure
A wider range of urban and rural
A variety of population centres with
niche retail experiences, business sites and premises.
A wider workforce and skills base.
Opportunities for countryside leisure.
Feedback on reputation and performance.
6.3.2 The operational areas and strategic
agendas of our local Health Authority, Police, Renew and RZ partners
and the emerging Local Development Framework are geared towards
sustainability at a City Region level. This is mirrored in our
public transport, local radio and newspaper catchments. There
are unique cultural traits stemming from the Six Towns of the
Potteries, the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire
Moorlands that are embedded in the delivery style of service providers.
Effectively, a critical mass of top-down, bottom-up and cross-cutting
agendas within our City Regionmany of these involving major,
long-term resource commitmentsneed to be reflected within
any new governance structures.
7. CITY REGION-BASED
7.1 A logical conclusion of the foregoing
analysis might be to bring the whole City Region together under
a single unitary authority. Certainly, if one examines the component
elements of county, metropolitan, unitary and district councils
across England, there are inconsistencies that will need to be
resolved in a fresh round of reorganisation. It is, for instance,
more difficult for a unitary authority like Stoke-on-Trent, whose
boundaries are tightly drawn around a built-up area, to plan for
sustainability than a council with a central city and large tracts
of rural land.
7.2 But, as highlighted in paragraph 4.5
above, boundary-focused solutions are no longer sufficient in
a culture of governance in which public bodies work with a growing
array of partners from other sectors and where globalisation continues
to blur the parameters of the local state. Problems are rarely
solved, or opportunities grasped, by drawing lines around them.
Socio-economic progress is achieved through empowerment, not controls.
The new vision for local government in England needs to be driven
by a capacity for innovative, accountable partnerships to operate
across administrative boundaries wherever possible.
1 Regional Planning Guidance for the West Midlands
(2004), p 2. Back
M Storper and R Salais Worlds of Production: the Action Frameworks
of the Economy Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press (1997). Back
Michael Parkinson, Cities and Regions: Institutions, Relationships
and Economic Consequences, EIUA (2002), p 2. Back
Integrated Economic Development Strategy for the North Staffordshire
Conurbation Manchester DTZ Pieda (2005). Back
ODPM Cities, Regions and Competitiveness Second Report
from the Working Group of Government Departments: The Core Cities,
the Regional Development Agencies (2003), p 7. Back