THE CENTRE for Cities think tank and the Fast Growth Cities group (including Cambridge City Council) have warned the Government not to overlook the risk that Covid-19 could pose to Cambridge’s long-term prosperity as they unveil data-led ideas for the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, Cambridge had one of the fastest growing local economies in the UK, was an important source of employment for people far beyond its council boundaries and its success contributed to the strength of the national economy.
However Cambridge has not escaped the economic damage done by the pandemic and could be at risk of being ‘levelled down’ without further support for people and businesses from the Government.
Currently, 3.9% of eligible adults in the city are claiming unemployment-related benefits, an increase of 2.3 percentage points compared to last March. Additionally, 12.6% of workers in Cambridge are being supported by the furlough scheme.
Just as Cambridge’s success was important for the UK economy pre-Covid, its recovery will be vital in ensuring the wider region and the country bounces back quickly from the pandemic.
The Centre for Cities/Fast Growth Cities blueprint for recovery focuses on six key areas for Cambridge and similar cities to focus on:
- Labour market skills and education
- Businesses and growth
- High streets and city centres
- Housing and planning
- Economic impact of Covid-19
In the short-term it urges the Government to provide guidance to firms in Cambridge so they can make the most of the financial support on offer, such as business support loans that are available.
In the longer term, Government support for Cambridge’s future economic growth should focus on providing adults with better education opportunities, continuing to attract high-skilled, high-paying businesses into the city and surrounding area, and building more homes – particularly of the types and tenures that are realistic for ordinary people – to increase affordability in the city.
Centre for Cities and Fast Growth Cities also call on the Government to devolve more power and money away from Whitehall and to the council.
Separately, the Leader of Cambridge City Council, together with fellow leaders of the Fast Growth Cities, have welcomed the Government’s plans to move forward with plans for Oxford-Cambridge Arc. They have called on the Government to extend the planned East-West Rail project eastwards to Norwich and electrify the line – a move which would help meet the Government’s ambition for a zero-carbon future.
Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “This new report on Cambridge and our five partner cities along and beyond the Arc provides yet more evidence on the underpinning strengths of the Cambridge economy, and neighbouring South Cambridgeshire. It will be a great help to us in tackling our city’s particular challenges, as well as cementing joint working with other fast growth cities particularly our sister city of Oxford.
“Sectors of employment that have been struggling like retail and hospitality are now working to recover after a year of on-and-off lockdown, and the hardship by so many local small businesses. Too many people have lost jobs locally and need a route back.
“The new analysis also underlines that growth and prosperity has not benefited the lives of everyone in Cambridge. As we look forward to recovering from the impacts of coronavirus, we are determined to make that recovery both inclusive and a big step towards a net zero Cambridge, so that everyone can benefit from a greener recovery.
“The Centre for Cities report focus on greater investment in adult skills is vital so those now without a job and more local people can move into higher paid jobs.
“The city council is determined to use the report’s conclusions to work with all our businesses, our two universities and all our local communities to build a better future for everyone who lives, works and studies here.”
Centre for Cities Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “Cambridge has enjoyed several years of economic growth which has benefited people living in the city, and the whole UK through its growing contribution to the Treasury. However, it would be a mistake to think that it has escaped the economic damage done by Covid-19 and will need support to bounce back.
“In the short-term, practical measures to help Cambridge’s businesses reopen will be necessary, but in the long-term, more substantive changes to skills and training are needed to protect people’s jobs from economic crashes.”