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Making city regions work for business

The 'Making City Regions work for business – learning from others' event, jointly organised by Cardiff Capital Region’s support unit and Cardiff University on 21 June 2016, aimed to develop greater understanding and appreciation of effective practices in city region governance in the UK and abroad.

The event focused on exploring how city regions can work with businesses to enhance the prosperity of a region and how the different local authorities within a region can cooperate with each other and business such that the region performs and functions beyond the mere sum of its individual sub-territories.

Speakers from three established city regions shared details and experiences. These were Mike Blackburn for the Greater Manchester city region, Michael Moore reporting on Glasgow’s city deal and Thomas Kiwitt, Michael Ilk and Andreas Neureuther from the city region of Stuttgart (Germany).

At first glance, the city regions are quite different, not only in size, economic and social characteristics, and age but also in respect to their regional governance arrangements.

Despite the differences, however, there were a number of remarkable analogies in the messages that the speakers had for the Capital Region Transition Board and delegates from local government and business leaders:

Any governing body needs to convey a clear message on goals and reasons for regional collaboration via a strategy and consistent communication. Stable leadership is important, as is a regional strategy and plan (e.g. Greater Manchester has a region-wide Local Enterprise Partnership) with well-defined priorities which are reviewed and revised at regular intervals.

For Greater Manchester’s city region the development of its initial strategy was informed and shaped by an independent review of external experts and reports. This highlighted specific challenges characteristic of the region and helped to develop locally appropriate and distinct policy solutions.

The Stuttgart city region likewise has a strategy and regional plan. One of its priorities is to guide the development of its spatial structure along public transit routes to optimise resource use and sustainability.

Developing a functioning city region takes time and a consistent long-term commitment (including longer term funding arrangements). Actors in any emergent region go through a learning process that develops collaborative capacity. It is important to acknowledge that such collaboration relies on both communicating joint gains from joining forces but also on trust in relationships amongst partners. Building trust takes time and requires transparency, fairness and openness.

The Stuttgart region was formally established in 1994 and has practised regional collaboration for more than two decades. The two representatives from peripheral cities in the region suggested that trust in the democratic and legal channels as well as networks for informal interactions were vital to facilitate communications and effective decision-making.

Both Mike Blackburn (Greater Manchester) and Thomas Kiwitt (Verband Region Stuttgart) stressed that regional governance or government and its representatives need to be accountable at the regional scale and their actions/decision making transparent.

The setup of any regional governing body thus must:

a. include representation from each (all) of the existing local authorities or administrative units, and

b. ensure that representatives are responsible for tasks at a regional level to overcome partisanship and parochialism.

Accountability and transparency of decision-making within such a board or committee, and parliament need to be established.

All presenters emphasised the added value of regional scale cooperation and planning.

The main aspects were around achieving better access and connectivity through collaborating and pooling investment in public transport infrastructure and networks, but also maintaining an overview of development land at regional level or coordinating the development of a green infrastructure network.

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