London acts like a magnet, drawing enterprise, industry and talent to its orbit, and leaving other cities, especially in the North, with fewer jobs and opportunities. The proposed “Northern Powerhouse” is designed to redress this situation to some extent. Young people below the age of 25 find it particularly difficult outside London because of a shortage of starter jobs.
A further initiative would be to allow selected Northern cities to opt for “Charter City” status, under which they would acquire a series of powers to determine locally things that are otherwise decided nationally. This would include business rates and a raft of regulations. Start-ups would be made easier, with specific measures to reduce the costs of starting businesses and the time it took to do so.
The idea would be to attract investment and jobs, and to create new opportunities for local residents and those who chose to move there. Young people would benefit from this along with the rest of the population, but there could be specific measures under the “Charter City” status targeted at the under 25s in particular. They could be exempted from Council Tax. They could be given assistance with accommodation. Firms that took on people aged under 25 could be rewarded for doing so by lower rates and taxes. Planning and zoning regulations could be eased for them.
The proposal for “Charter Cities” borrows something from the Enterprise Zones of a generation ago, but would in addition learn from some of their shortcomings and improve upon the original idea. Much could be learned from a study of how successful cities abroad manage to make themselves attractive to new businesses and to draw in investment. For the most part this consists not of handouts and subsidies, but of government, both local and national, removing some of the burdens it imposes on business, and lowering the barriers they must cross to establish themselves.
Germany’s “bonfire of restrictions” post World War II led to the German economic miracle, and Hong Kong’s famously liberal approach to businesses led to an explosion of wealth and opportunity. The “Charter Cities” would aim to capture some of that approach and achieve some of that success. Governments, local and national, would have to think long-term, postponing some of the revenues they could achieve in the present for the prospect of much greater revenues in the future, and the expansion of businesses generated by the measures would provide young people with the prospect of advancement.