Nine lessons for making (or breaking) a city deal

By Leonie Pearson

June 29, 2017

The Regional Australia Institute’s new work (in partnership with the UK Centre for Cities) titled ‘Blueprint for Investing in City Deals: Are You Ready to Deal?’ presents nine key lessons from recent experiences in Australia and the UK – providing specific guidance for governments, policymakers and regional leaders getting ready to deal.

Since 2010 the UK has used City Deals to enable its cities to align national policies to local issues, fill in gaps to meet local priorities, and experiment with new approaches. These City Deals have been delivered across the UK ranging from cities as small as Cambridge (120,000 residents) to Manchester (2.5 million).

Drawing on the UK experience, the RAI’s Blueprint addresses the key issue of how to get ready for a City Deal.

In addressing this, two questions emerge. Is the economy ready? Is the city ready? The first question is related to economic characteristics while the second is related to people.

The RAI Blueprint explores these questions for Australian regional cities, and nine key lessons emerge that all Australian cities should consider when embarking on a City Deal:

  1. Be clear about local goals, economic priorities with supporting evidence. Cities must be clear about their long-term goals and economic priorities, and be able to show that their growth plans are based on genuine local strengths. They should develop solutions that are right for them, rather than trying to replicate existing approaches. These economic priorities must be backed by clear evidence and tied to the objectives of their City Deal. It is also important that the impact of proposals can be measured, to demonstrate their effectiveness.
  2. Work with neighbours and regions for greater outcomes. Cities will achieve more if they work with neighbours and plan beyond their boundaries for their wider economic area. Proposals should reflect these wider economic interests.
  3. No new money – pooling funds from many programs. All City Deal initiatives refer to minimal new spend and more focus on the reallocation of existing policy and program resources. This pooled funding allows for greater certainty of funding, agreement of timeframes and recognition that if any changes are to occur that all parties are consulted.
  4. Use brokerage and coordination efforts to get big payoffs. City Deals have enabled more direct involvement of all levels of government focused on local issues. These two or three level negotiations have previously not been able to take place on holistic local matters, unless in a crisis.
  5. Transparency and accountability of players and decisions. A new way of dealing across and within players requires clarity on how this will happen and who is responsible. This transparency and accountability are for both the roles of the players and how decisions are made.

The remaining four lessons have been hard learnt through tough negotiations. These lessons are for cities mature enough to have understood and operationalised the fundamentals of a City Deal and now want an edge of advantage.

  1. Lead with private sector involvement. It is important to keep the private sector closely involved. This improves the quality and strength of proposals, and makes it harder for government to reject them.
  2. Stand firm on priorities and demonstrate local economic understanding. Cities should stand firm on their priorities, and demonstrate that they understand their local economic needs better than the government.
  3. Be innovative, transformational and new. Cities should regard the City Deal as a chance to be innovative and inventive, to explore transformational change to a local area, and take calculated risks.
  4. A new developing relationship not ‘task and finish’ process. City Deal negotiations should be seen not as a ‘task and finish’ process, but as the start of a new, developing relationship with government.

The Blueprint provides specific guidance on how to get regional cities ‘investment ready’, while its companion report titled ‘Lighting Up our Great Small Cities: Challenging Misconceptions’ provides direction on the economic engines of regional cities (and how to tune them).


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