Time to unlock Britain’s cities

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TODAY’S landmark report on empowering the UK’s great cities has, in some respects, been overtaken by recent political events – and, in particular, George Osborne’s welcome desire to transform the North into an “economic powerhouse”.

TODAY’S landmark report on empowering the UK’s great cities has, in some respects, been overtaken by recent political events – and, in particular, George Osborne’s welcome desire to transform the North into an “economic powerhouse”.

To his credit, the Chancellor has already embraced many of the principles set out by the RSA City Growth Commission. But there is a catch – the mood music was very similar after Lord Heseltine’s own report on regenerating the North and Mr Osborne proved to be extremely reluctant to release the Treasury’s tight grip on the nation’s financial purse strings.

The context to today’s report, however, is very different – the main political parties are all under even greater pressure to act following the recent referendum vote on Scottish independence and the whole nation will be a projected £79bn better off if the concept of “devo met” takes off in the English regions.

Yet the innovative ideas set out by the economist Jim O’Neill do still have to pass two significant hurdles. First, his ambition needs to be reciprocated by Mr Osborne in the Autumn Statement and there needs to be an acceptance on the part of Whitehall policy-makers that the North’s future is just as important as Holyrood’s new devolution settlement.

Second, it is up to town hall leaders in specific areas, like West Yorkshire, to demonstrate they can work together for the region’s greater good. The jury is still out on this. And there’s also the related issue of scrutiny. If the newly-created bodies tasked with delivering a new era of prosperity to the regions are to be entrusted with unprecedented sums of public money, those responsible for taking such decisions still need to be held publicly accountable for their decisions – there must not, for example be any repeat of the Digital Region financial fiasco which began on Yorkshire Forward’s watch.

Parenting poser

Why education begins at home

IT DOESN’T take a genius reading between the lines to realise that literacy levels in Yorkshire lag behind the rest of Britain. This has been self-evident for years and 12 per cent of seven year-olds in the county now struggle with basic reading and writing.

There is a depressing familiarity to this statistic which becomes even more perturbing when placed in wider context. It equates to 7,480 children, more than the average attendance at a Doncaster Rovers home match. History also shows that it is difficult for youngsters to catch up once their academic work starts to slip.

Why does Yorkshire remain rooted at the bottom of the class? Until this question is reconciled, it will be difficult to reverse this trend. That said, the role of teachers and parents will be critical moving forward. Youngsters, and particularly those struggling from an early age, will require extensive tuition – and from teachers who are prepared to be creative when it comes to firing the imagination of their pupils? Perhaps reading material needs to become more relevant.

Yet, as the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission concluded this week, what hope is there for youngsters in those areas where “bad parenting” is rife? It is no coincidence that the greatest number of broken homes happens to be concentrated in the poorest-performing LEAs.

Until this cycle is broken, and all parents recognise that the education of their children is priceless and does, in fact, begin at home, a significant number of youngsters will be destined for a lifetime on minimum wage jobs before they even begin secondary school.

That cannot be right – or acceptable.

Recycling rules

Councils should keep it simple

AS HAS become the norm, it is the Parliamentary select committees – rather than the Whitehall ministries or those backbenchers in the pocket of party whips – who are working overtime to restore the reputation of politicians and today’s report on recycling is no exception.

Once again, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – headed by Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh – cuts straight to the chase and asks why more households are not doing more to embrace recycling when councils up and down Britain have been tasked with reducing levels of waste?

It’s a fair question. And, regrettably, the response is a predictable one – the public sector, both locally and nationally, continues to do its utmost to impose a bewildering array of rules and regulations that are offputting to some when they should be focusing their efforts on keeping it simple so more people recycle on a regular basis. This is not revolutionary – it’s just plain common sense.