Belfast City Council The city needs more powers to drive economic growth, according to a new report by the Chamber of Commerce.
The report, by independent think tank Pivotal, examined the mandate of local authorities in the UK to explore what changes could be made to boost growth and improve governance in the Northern Ireland capital.
The report noted that councils in Northern Ireland have a narrower range of mandates and smaller budgets than those in the rest of the UK, and that most decisions on economic and infrastructure matters are taken at Stormont rather than at local level.
Simon Hamilton, Chief Executive of the Belfast Chamber, a former Stormont economy minister, said: “Progress has been much slower in Belfast. At times painfully.
“The difference between Belfast and other cities is not a lack of ambition or vision. It’s a lack of strength. Putting that ambition, this vision, into a vehicle that can deliver the change our city needs now and whether we can meet the challenges ahead in the years to come will be crucial.”
“The combined metropolitan authorities, some with a directly elected mayor and some without, are more socially constituted for the obvious reason of being able to provide large-scale job creation, economic growth, regeneration and infrastructure investment. The councils seem to do and work well across Great Britain.
“Tools like Freeports and the Mayoral Development Corporations are also helping city areas to bring about big change. If Belfast is to be the best city it can be, then we need to scrutinize these examples and replace our fragmented system of government with something better, more. Growth drivers such as regeneration and infrastructure. reinforced structures that can connect
In terms of devolved power models, the report looks at City Agreements, bespoke financing packages negotiated between central government, councils and other bodies, and Enterprise Zones that provide tax breaks and government support, including 100% business rate reduction and simplified planning. permit arrangements for developments in certain areas.
The Belfast area currently has a City Agreement running through local government. The £1bn deal is designed to create up to 20,000 new skilled jobs in the Belfast area alongside a 10-year economic growth programme.
The report also looks at the Combined Authorities (CA), statutory bodies created using national legislation to allow two or more councils to work together across council boundaries, and Freeports that differ from regular ports in that they are exempt from typical tax and customs rules. .
There are currently 10 CAs across the UK including Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire and Tees Valley. The report looks at case studies from some of these areas to see what lessons can be learned in Belfast.
CAs are typically headed by a directly elected metro mayor, who will usually set up a Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC). These are companies that invest in land and infrastructure to boost regional economic growth.
At the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), regulations have allowed the region to accelerate regeneration through more efficient use of the districts and urban centers that have developed outside of central Manchester.
Greater Manchester also uses a ‘recovery’ model that allows the GMCA to retain up to £30m a year in tax from the growth it generates through Revolving Mutual Funds (RIFs). These are business loans that return any yields to the fund and allow it to grow over time.
Looking at the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), the model has allowed it to develop a £588.2m 10-year investment plan in the region to provide a low-carbon economy in the region that aims to create more than 16,000 jobs and £1.48bn. in additional economic output.
The report also examines case studies in Glasgow and the £1.13bn city deal.
In conclusion, the report provides a snapshot of the options Belfast can use to drive growth.
“The enhanced mandates in Belfast have the potential to act as a catalyst for these strategies, enabling joint policy-making and cross-departmental work on a budget to initiate innovation and change,” the report says.