England’s core cities are to be asked to draw up “deals” with central government setting out what they need from Whitehall – and what they want to do themselves, the Minister for the Cities said.
Greg Clark, who was appointed in July, is overseeing a series of negotiations with major cities including Birmingham.
Speaking to Conservative activists at a fringe event during the Tory conference, he said the Government was ready to use new powers included in the Localism Bill which allowed it to devolve responsibility for any public service or activity to local authorities.
The Bill, which also obliges major cities, including Birmingham, to hold referenda on creating directly-elected mayors, gives authorities a “general power of competence” which could allow them to set up banks, develop property or run new services.
Mr Clark said: “Every city is different. Here we are in Manchester, very different from Liverpool, very different again from Birmingham.
“Every city has its own history, it’s own strengths, it’s own approach.
“Government typically operates in a very uniform way. It doesn’t respect, in my view, the differences between cities in other parts of the country.
“So I think the Government needs to take a less uniform approach and not expect the cities to dance to the Government’s tune.
“But government should organise itself to be able to deal in a bespoke way with the cities, recognising that what is wanted in Manchester might be different to what is wanted in Birmingham or Newcastle.”
He added: “That is a big challenge for the machinery of government but it is absolutely necessary, because, if you are to make the cities achieve their potential, then I think you need to reflect on and respect the differences between them.”
The Government would do “deals” with cities setting out their rights and powers, he said.
“I think we should increasingly look to do what might be described as a series of deals with cities, recognising the different needs, the different appetites they have. I hope and intend that the attitude of the Government from now on will be to encourage cities to say what it is they want, how they want to do things differently and then to make propositions.”
Major cities needed to thrive for Britain’s economy to grow, he said.
“Growth doesn’t happen in the abstract. It happens in particular places. Up and down the country, the places that are crucial to the success of the economy are our cities.
“The major cities account for two thirds of the jobs we already have in the economy. The great majority of our leading universities are in our cities.
“So if you think of the potential of our cities, it is clear that unless our cities prosper the country won’t prosper.”
In his role as Minister for the Cities, Mr Clark will report to a panel chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg which also includes Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and Business Secretary Vince Cable.