Give Oxford city growth powers to lead national recovery, Localis report urges

Give Oxford city growth powers to lead national recovery, Localis report urges

Failure to invest in Oxford’s unique economic and innovation assets and support strong city-led governance could stymie attempts to keep the UK ahead of the curve for international scientific-led innovation and hold back UK post-COVID recovery, a report issued by the think-tank Localis today has warned.

In its study of Oxford’s growth potential, entitled ‘At the right level – a strategic case for city-led growth, innovation and renewal’ the think-tank found that because of its unique strengths and assets as a compact global city – reinforced by the success of the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine – the city could accelerate the successful growth of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc into a world economic area through health-tech and clean growth industries.

Oxford’s economy already generates £6.75bn each year and is a net contributor to the Exchequer, but to address the central issue of the city’s own budgetary uncertainty and the need for a single long-term investment strategy for city-led growth, Localis is calling for a £1bn Endowment Deal for Oxford.

This deal would give Oxford City Council and partners power to:

  • target investment in key physical and transport infrastructure requirements;
  • build the capacity needed to develop a skills supply chain;
  • give strategic planning powers relating to Oxford’s decarbonisation targets;
  • and allow for city led investment strategies on social, digital, and smart energy infrastructure.

In addition, the report argued that in order to deliver accelerated growth, the city needs strong local governance and growth powers to tackle transport and housing bottlenecks through delivering physical, digital and social infrastructure at pace alongside a long-term investment strategy which would enable Oxford to compete with its international peers.

Additionally, Oxford alongside other cities key to the Arc’s future growth, including Cambridge, and Milton Keynes need to have a clear voice within its governance, including direct representation on the proposed Arc Growth Body, the study claims.

Localis chief executive, Jonathan Werran, said: “If the UK is to remain globally competitive, then it needs a successful innovation ecosystem. As our leading knowledge economy hub, there is a clear national strategic case to ensure Oxford, and everything that makes it unique as a compact global city, is able to succeed as the dynamo for the Oxford/Cambridge Arc.

“A devolution revolution which would enable Oxford to deliver good and sustainable long-term growth has the potential to spearhead regional and national growth recovery long into the future.”

Zayn Qureshi, senior researcher at Localis and report author, said: “Oxford is a core element in of a number of distinct economic geographies, including the functional economic areas of the city, travel to work and housing market areas, the “knowledge spine” that runs north to south of the city and more broadly the Arc and the Thames Valley.

“This requires the city to coordinate and align strategies across administrative boundaries locally and regionally. This collaborative approach involving neighbouring councils, OxLEP, the Oxfordshire Growth Board and the Arc, strikes a vital balance in enabling a strategic vision and underpinning wider COVID economic recovery, whilst also allowing for the local knowledge and focus on area specific issues and opportunities to be maintained.”

Cllr Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council, said: “I very much welcome this important piece of work. Localis’ work on the importance of Global Compact Cities like Oxford is an idea that has found its time. The post-COVID, post-Brexit UK needs cities who lead economic growth but also support a “levelling up agenda locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

“Over the past year our city has already demonstrated its importance on the world stage. Working with our partners across Oxfordshire and beyond, we want to see the economic power of Oxford working for the local and national economy and delivering more and better paid jobs for local people.”

A copy of the full report, “At the right level – a strategic case for city-led growth, innovation and renewal” can be accessed here:

Alongside the report, Localis has also prepared a two-page briefing: