‘Be bold and think big’, says O’Neill

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Economist Jim O’Neill returned to his home city of Manchester to deliver his verdict on devolution, the power of London and the global economy at our latest Vital Topics lecture.

O’Neill, Honorary Professor of Economics at The University of Manchester – and the man who famously coined the BRIC term to describe emerging economic powers – currently chairs the City Growth Commission looking at the future of UK cities.

He said the UK was one of the most centrally controlled countries in the world. However in the wake of the Scottish referendum he said devolving more power to English cities should not be regarded as the solution. “It is impractical to consider that the Treasury, at a time when it is obsessed with the fiscal deficit, is going to start giving out devolution to places. The idea that a large number of regional areas are all going to get devolution at the same time is not realistic.”

O’Neill said it was up to cities themselves to ask what made them different. “To empower places to be bolder you have got to look at the things that make them successful. Cities need to ask ‘what is my edge?’ They need to be bold and think big.”

However O’Neill said giving more powers to selected cities would send out a strong message, and that building more accountability locally was essential. “You have got to take some risks somewhere,” he added.
Meanwhile he welcomed Chancellor George Osborne’s recent support for closer collaboration among northern cities in areas such as transport infrastructure. “Take the fact that the Piccadilly tube line is the same length as Liverpool to Leeds. The call was very much ‘don’t just sit there but come and suggest something credible’. That is what our cities need to do.”

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