When I last wrote to thank staff for their hard work and support, at the end of last year, I promised to keep you informed of new ways we would maximise the impact of public spending to continue delivering the best results for our residents and making the most of the resources available.
So, at a time of significant uncertainty about the resources we will recieve from the Government for 2013/14 and beyond, I'm delighted to share with you two major announcements that will play a vital role in helping our economy realise its potential.
The first is the announcement on Tuesday of the City Deal for Greater Manchester.
This major deal empowers our region to maximise economic growth through a range of agreements between the Government and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, based on the needs and opportunities of the region’s economy.
This ambitious package of measures is geared towards accelerating growth, boosting skills and encouraging local decision-making and increased self-sufficiency. And Greater Manchester, with the only combined authority in the country, is in a unique position to make it work.
The new City Deal measures include:
Earnback A radical Earnback model where the Government has agreed in principle that up to £1.2billion invested in infrastructure improvements by Greater Manchester will be ‘paid back’ to the combined authority as real economic growth is seen. This is the first tax-increment finance-style scheme in England outside London.
We will reinvest these ‘earned back’ funds in more infrastructure improvements to allow Greater Manchester to reach its economic potential. The first phase will include completion of the Greater Manchester Transport Fund programme, allowing early implementation of schemes, including the Metrolink extension to Trafford Park and the A6-to-Manchester Airport relief road.
Investment framework A major shift towards local decision-making by endorsing the Investment Framework Greater Manchester will use to align funding and assets to prioritise economic growth in the region and cut red tape. This approach, already used in the GM Transport Fund, prioritises projects for investment based on their economic impact. By bringing together different funds into one pot and basing local investment on priorities, we can invest with much greater flexibility.
We also plan to establish a Greater Manchester Housing Investment Board with the Government and the Homes and Communities Agency to use national funding, local investment and public land to boost housing development.
Growth Hub Greater Manchester has already created a business Growth Hub to support local businesses with advice and resources. Three years of transitional funding will enable Manchester to expand this service to deliver targeted programmes, improve access to finance, and strengthen business-to-business mentoring. GM will then use Enterprise Zone revenues from 2015 onwards to ensure the hub is on a sustainable footing.
Skills and the local economy Greater Manchester will deliver an extra 6,000 apprenticeships via small and medium-sized businesses and pilot new incentives for businesses to invest in training. The Government has also agreed a major shift enabling Greater Manchester to link mainstream skills funding with the priorities of the local economy and the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership.
Low-carbon Demonstrator Greater Manchester and UK Green Investments will fund a 50/50 joint venture to create strong, investable low-carbon projects, potentially bringing significant extra funding to Greater Manchester. GM will commit resources and expertise to a low-carbon hub to enable it to be a 'demonstrator' for Government programmes and pilots to reduce carbon emissions.
Inward investment beacon The Government will work with Greater Manchester to develop the city’s role as a beacon for high-value inward investment from China and India in a unique partnership with London. GM will match funding from the Government to work in those markets to generate new jobs in the UK.
These City Deal agreements will have a huge impact – and this is just the first phase. With our partners we are challenging orthodox thinking so we can press forward with much-needed investment that will play a vital role in helping our economy realise its potential.
The second fantastic boost to our city I want to celebrate with you is our successful bid for £12million of Government funding to become a ‘superconnected city'.
This will spread the advantages of ultrafast broadband to 235,000 premises – 224,000 homes and 11,000 businesses –across the city by 2014/15. The plans will complement a Greater Manchester-wide strategy to introduce ultrafast broadband across the city region.
There's additional funding to support small and medium-sized businesses requiring even faster connectivity, including providing support and advice to help them maximise the benefits.
High-speed wireless connections will be installed across key public areas and along major transport corridors, making it easier than ever for people in the city to get online quickly.
The project will also tackle issues of digital exclusion in so-called ‘white’ areas where the private sector has been reluctant to invest. Currently, only 74 per cent of residents can access broadband, with take-up particularly low in Wythenshawe and East Manchester.
Removing this ‘digital divide’ will radically improve the potential to deliver online services to residents.
We aim to be one of the world's top 20 digital cities by 2020 and this funding will help propel us along that path.
We've been working on gaining more powers from central Government for over a decade, and pushing for better connectivity for years. So these two budget announcements provide great news for Manchester, and I'd like to thank all those who have persevered and worked so tenaciously to get us to this day - it is a game-changer for the city.
We will keep you informed as all this work progresses.