Read in The Economist of 6 June 2015:
George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer in the UK Cameron administration, called the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield urban region a new ‘Northern Powerhouse’. At least he wants it to become a new engine. The Economist agrees very much on that. Great Britain, it states, is one of the most centralised and economically unbalanced countries in Europe. It thinks part of the problem is “that local government is so toothless.” Really? “Over-centralisation is a strange problem for Britain to have. In the 19th century northern towns were like city-states, run by Victorian worthies who set up civic institutions and superb infrastructure. It was only with the coming of the welfare state in the 1940s that London took control.” After the austerity programmes of the central government, all city councils now want control of their own budgets. Osborne will give it to them if they collaborate and choose one mayor for themselves first, he promised. He calls it ‘metro mayors’. Will they do it? And will devolution help?
The article shows a diagram of four European countries with their biggest cities: Great Britian, Germany, Italy, Spain. The capital’s GDP in each cases is 100. It compares Britain to Germany and the other countries. Düsseldorf then makes more than 175, Milan 170, Barcelona 75. Manchester though makes only 7, Birmingham 6, Glasgow 5. Surprising? No, London is far bigger than Berlin, far more successful too because Berlin is not doing too well. Rome is dull compared to Milan. Take the Netherlands: Dutch government in The Hague is dominating, the political system is very centralised, but Amsterdam is growing faster though. What’s wrong with the British? Do they really think the success of London is due to centralised government policies? After 1940 British government created a green belt around London and built new towns in order to appease the monster. To no avail. Of course, de-centralisation is needed, (we all need city-states now), but centralisation is not the cause of London’s astounding success. Success just reinforces success. It’s globalisation that’s doing its work. Because of globalisation this uneven growth gets reinforced. This feels unjust. Devolution will only make it more explicit.