Council chiefs in Newcastle demand more say over how they spend their money

Newcastle part of Local Voices campaign involving England's Core Cities which they say will promote economic growth and create jobs

Collingwood Street in Newcastle
Collingwood Street in Newcastle

A campaign has been launched by England’s eight largest cities outside of London - including Newcastle - demanding more power over how they spend their money.

Called Local Voices, the scheme was outlined at a parliamentary reception attended by civic leaders including the Mayor of London Boris Johnson as well as MPs.

The Core Cities taking part in the campaign are Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield, who spoke of the need to make the most of taxpayers’ money by having the power to make decisions locally.

Newcastle City Council has already used assets, property covenants and other financing opportunities to ensure the completion of major projects which are critical to the city’s growth.

This enabled privately financed capital programmes to go ahead with minimal call on the council’s revenue budget. They want this ability to be extended further.

One regeneration project to have benefited is Stephenson Quarter behind the Central Station.

Michelle Percy is director of Silverlink Holdings, one of the council’s main partners in the scheme, who said: “The city’s commitment demonstrates our shared confidence that this exciting, strategic development will deliver jobs and wealth and bring vibrancy to the city.

“If we as a city had greater control of the investment levels that Government controls we could generate significantly larger returns to the city as a whole in terms of growth and regeneration.”

The Core Cities are now asking Government for:

  • An extension to the Single Pot approach for capital funds;
  • Lifting the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, so cities can fund more housing investment;
  • Generating certainty with greater local control of public spending and budgets that are the length of parliaments;
  • Devolving property taxes to cities and enable them to control other local taxes;
  • Considering the formation of a Local Investment Bank across all Core Cities.

The Local Voices campaign consists of people in each of the eight Core Cities whose work has benefited, and would benefit further, by greater devolution of freedoms to cities.

They say greater freedom to decide how to spend the money generated in cities, such as property taxes, would help the Core Cities meet their target of outperforming the national economy, and becoming financially self-sustaining.

According to organisers of the campaign, independent forecasts demonstrate this could mean an additional £222bn and 1.3m jobs for the country by 2030.

This could also mean an additional £41.6bn to the Government in taxes from increased jobs by 2030 – enough to pay off almost half the national deficit. And that’s not by raising the levels of taxes, just by changing how current taxes are invested.

Newcastle City Council leader Coun Nick Forbes said: “Cities are engines of growth, but they must be freed from the shackles of Government control if they are to truly reach their economic potential. Research demonstrates that the big winner will be the national economy so there really should be no further delay.

“The Local Voices campaign celebrates the achievements of the Core Cities and places greater pressure on Government to do the right thing and devolve further powers to the cities.

“Walking around Newcastle, you can see by the cranes and the construction sites the difference that devolved funding is having through our City Deal. How much more could we achieve if we received greater flexibilities and responsibilities to deliver more jobs and investment on behalf of local people?”

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