Accelerated connectivity and fiscal devolution to boost the North, Midlands and city-regions: include HS3, says HS2 boss

Unleashing Metro Growth, the final report of the City Growth Commission, contains a full set of recommendations for national and local government. The report makes the case for, and explain how, cities can take a new role in our political economy, creating stronger, more inclusive and sustainable growth in the UK.

And speaking on BBC Radio 4, HS2 boss David Higgins said that the review of the second phase of HS2 endorsed the two planned routes, joining the first London-Birmingham line to Manchester and Leeds, but stressed that urgent additional work was needed to forge “transformational” connections from west to east.

Higgins said either a new tunnelled high-speed route or an upgraded rail link through existing but unused tunnels through the Pennines were possible options. He will help draw up detailed proposals for what Downing Street is calling an HS3 link by March. The government backed his call for a unified transport body to match London’s by announcing the creation of Transport for the North, covering five city regions – Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull – as part of a wider strategy to boost the northern economy.

The City Growth Commission report also suggests that accelerated connectivity between metros in the North, Midlands and other 'super city-regions' is urgently needed, as is fiscal devolution and 'freedom for the most devolved metros to set and fully retain a suite of taxes'.

Download 'Unleashing Metro Growth: Final recommendations of the City Growth Commission'.

The final report considers evidence heard by the Commission in the form of written submissions and evidence hearings, and discussions hosted by the Commission at seminars, roundtables and other stakeholder engagement.

The report draws on interim reports which have focused on skills, infrastructure, fiscal devolution and the role of universities in driving metro growth.

Key recommendations outline a significant shift – from the centre to metros – in policy and finance, enabling metro leaders to:

Coordinate resources across their city-region and make strategic policy and finance decisions via place-based budgeting and investment strategy.
Make more informed and responsive decisions based on evaluation of local data and evidence.
Develop effective ways of integrating public service reform and economic development.
Have greater flexibility over their spending and borrowing arrangements, including:
Multi-year finance settlements of between five and 10 years,
Retention of a proportion of the tax proceeds of growth; and
Freedom for the most devolved metros to set and fully retain a suite of taxes.

Furthermore, metros should be represented in national decision making, bringing forward measures to enhance connectivity and growth, including:

A comprehensive review on how our current and future needs for digital infrastructure can be met; and,
Accelerated connectivity between metros in the North, Midlands and other 'super city-regions'.

Other measures include lifting the cap on Tier 2 (non-EU) migration, devolution of adult skills budgets, and additional support for universities to help fuel their local economy.

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