Devolution to the UK’s cities and regions is fundamental to the country’s economic prosperity, London’s deputy mayor for business has said.
Rajesh Agrawal told The Yorkshire Post that investment into infrastructure projects in both the capital and the UK’s regions should be treated with equal priority and said that more needed to be done to foster commercial links between London and the UK’s major cities.
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Speaking ahead of a visit to Leeds this week, Mr Agrawal said that the country was far too centralised and that even London was missing out as a result.
“I think that more can be done,” he said.
“But it can only be done by devolving more powers to cities and regions.
“If you look at Tokyo, the amount that the Government of Tokyo has control over amounts to 70 per cent of the money that is spent in Tokyo.
“In New York that figure is 50 per cent. In London it is seven per cent.
“London is one of the least devolved of any major global cities.
“We need more devolution, not just for London, but for all cities and regions. Increasingly they are more important. I think there is now a really good opportunity with metro mayors in place. But it is still to centralised.”
Better relations between UK cities
Mr Agrawal, a tech entrepreneur who was elected to his position in 2016, said that one of his key objectives in office was to foster better links with British cities as well as internationally.
“One of the things I was quite keen on doing from quite early on was looking at London’s role in reaching out to cities in the UK.
“I obviously talk to Shanghai, New York, Berlin and Paris but it is very important to talk to the cities in the UK as well. It is about seeing how our city regions can work together and if we can share any learning. I would like to learn what they are doing in Leeds and how we can join forces.
“If you are a business person or an entrepreneur, frankly, you do not see any political boundaries, you don’t see regions.
“You just want to work and expand the business.”
Support for the North
Speaking after the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Northern Powerhouse concept, the deputy mayor said that he backed the movement as part of a wider programme of developing the whole UK.
“For far too long politicians have played one region against the other. It is important to realise that London is the economic engine of the country but that it is equally important that the benefits of London are shared across the country.
“So I am fully supportive of Northern Powerhouse. It is very important that we constantly invest in the infrastructure. It should not be one or the other. We should do both. We need to invest in infrastructure in London and in other parts of the country, otherwise our country will be lopsided.
“It should never be a case of London versus the rest of the country, it should be a case of London and the rest of the country all being on the same side.
“It is not a zero sum game, it is not about London getting a bigger slice of the pie. It is about making the pie bigger and devolving more power to cities and regions.”
“If Leeds does well, London does well.
“If London does well, Leeds does well. We are all interconnected. Leeds is only two hours away.
“We should all be working closer together.”
We need business to lead on skills
Efforts to improve the skill levels of the UK workforce must be led by business, Mr Agrawal said.
“Politicians are not talking enough about how technology is changing work or the skills we not only require today but those we will require in a few years time,” he said.
“I strongly believe that any skills agenda has to be business-led. It is far too important to be left to politicians and far too important to be left to even educationalists for that matter. Businesses should be telling us what kind of skills are required then politicians and educationalists should be delivering on that