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Cost of Living: Energy and Housing

Part of Bills Presented — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 5th June 2014.

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Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston 1:54 pm, 5th June 2014

If the cap fits, I wear it.

The funding streams for our cities are not working, which is a problem. I want to spell out some stark facts. I can pick any set of statistics and paint whatever picture of Birmingham I choose. It could be the most enterprising, the fastest growing and the most amazing city that has everything: theatre, football, ballet, orchestras. You name it, we have it. On the other hand, we have just about everything that is dark. We have the fastest growing population under the age of 25; 40% are under 25 and 30% are under 15. On family patterns and in terms of family sizes, we are Bradford. In terms of skills gaps, we are Leicester. In 18 months’ time, on the current trajectory, the city could go bankrupt. This is not just scary talk; it is the truth. What does that mean? In order to give our cities proper power and to make them work properly, we have to look at different ways of dealing with them.

We are told that Deutsche Bank is coming to Birmingham and creating 1,000 new jobs, but I have talked to Network Rail in the context of Birmingham New Street and asked what has surprised those most involved in the five years of the New Street regeneration. I was told that it was the increase in regional commuting. We have a city with ten constituencies, of which two are consistently in the top three of youth unemployment and general unemployment: Hodge Hill and Ladywood. We then create 1,000 jobs for Deutsche Bank in or on the edge of Ladywood, and all that happens is that we bring in employment from Warwickshire, Solihull and Worcestershire. The problems building up in the city are not being addressed.

There are some things that Birmingham can do by itself. I am working on something called the Birmingham baccalaureate, which is trying to combine the English baccalaureate employability skills with what local employers want to make sure that when we create jobs, we also create the kind of jobs that they will respond to. For our cities to grow, we must make sure that the wealth that is generated in the cities stays in the cities.

That takes me to the one thing that grieves me the most in the last five years: the wretched imposition of police commissioners, whom I would abolish tomorrow without shedding a single tear. We made having directly elected mayors the subject of a referendum, which was a big mistake. If we want to devolve power in England outside London, we need strategic directly elected mayors. We need them to work on boundaries that are beyond the local authority boundaries. If we look at the Birmingham city boundaries and at the NHS commissioning boundaries, the latter go by patient flows around the hospitals, which are not respecters of local authority boundaries.

We may think cities are about buildings. They are not. They are about flows of people. It is our job to provide the structure for the flows of people, and to make cities thrive and be economically successful. What I really want—it was not in the Queen’s Speech—is strategic elected regional mayors. I want direct flows of finance to go to the city units. I do not care whether it is a property tax, a percentage of VAT or whatever; they need a consistent and reliable stream. That is a challenge for all of us as politicians.

My last point is that we need to realise that doing the same everywhere is not only not fair, it is inappropriate. Divergence and differentiation—horses for courses in different places—is something that is politically difficult to accept but, in terms of devolving power properly, is the right thing to do.