A New Pathway for Regions – Making City Deals (and Regional Jobs and Growth Packages) Work
From the UK to regional Australia, City Deals and their new sibling Regional Jobs and Growth Packages are set to be the centrepiece regional development policies of the re-elected Turnbull Government.
The Regional Australia Institute’s (RAI) April report Deal or No Deal? Bringing Small Cities into the National Cities Agenda examined the potential for this policy approach and we are pleased to see commitment to it from the government.
The Coalition has already committed to rolling out Australia’s first regional City Deals in Townsville, and Launceston. Regional Jobs and Growth Packages were also announced during the election with up to $30 million (total $200m) available for regions including the NSW North Coast, Cairns, the Upper Spencer Gulf, the Goulburn Valley and the Wide-Bay Burnett region.
Discussions with city mayors and CEO’s indicates the City Deals concept has been well received. Interest is now turning to how the policy will be implemented and many people remain unclear on the practicalities.
Our question to the new government is: are we ready for City Deal implementation and how can we make the Regional Jobs and Growth Packages work?
The RAI’s talks with regional city leaders from across Australia including Townsville, Shepparton, Mildura, Geraldton and other members of Regional Capitals Australia, has raised three key questions:
- What is the City Deal focus?
It seems straightforward, but it hasn’t been clarified.
Ideally local leaders want a single point of policy engagement across state and federal government and all their portfolios. This single point will allow regional cities to design truly innovative and transformational policy packages with long term planning and integrated outcomes delivering more jobs, higher productivity and better liveability.
Or are City Deals just a rebadged infrastructure fund, perpetuating grant giving to local governments? We hope not.
- How does the City Deal process work?
The exciting opportunity is to achieve cross portfolio, cross jurisdiction strategies – being able to act simultaneously and in ways that respond to local needs on infrastructure, skills, innovation and social issues is unique in regional policy. However, greater clarity will be needed on:
- Who can (or must) be involved? For example, community, private business, local, state and federal government;
- What portfolio programs are included? Better use of existing resources is a greater opportunity than the relatively limited funds available in a tight budget. But whether existing health, education, social services or innovation policies can be adapted to local needs as part of a City Deal remains to be seen;
- How will the negotiation process work? The role and engagement of the States remains unclear, as does the ability for a region to seek to commence negotiations rather than being publicly invited by the Government. An early issue in the UK was that the negotiation approach was poorly developed and one-sided, leading to cities questioning whether the negotiation process was real; and
- Who will hold the implementation roles? How is the risk and reward shared? The way responsibility and risk are managed within deals will be crucial to regions having the confidence to take risks in what they propose or agree to implement.
- What type of contract is a City Deal?
The mechanism for the City Deal is still to be determined. A partnership based contract and the innovative financing options identified in the Smart Cities Plan are not the same as the usual grant contracts. We need to think carefully about the legal aspects of City Deals and ensure they include the right monitoring and measuring tools so we can see if they deliver the outcomes we expect.
Working It Out – let’s not rush it
The RAI sees City Deals and Regional Jobs and Growth Packages as the one of the most important regional policy initiatives that have been put on the table in a long time. It will challenge regions to do things differently. There will be teething issues as all sides work out the best way to do deals for different places.
The first couple of deals will be crucial in setting a standard and framework for implementing this policy.
A key risk in our 24 hour news cycles is that the rush for immediate results overshadows putting a policy framework in place that can help regions do better for the long term.
The RAI is working on an assessment of the best ways to resolve the implementation challenges for City Deals and the new Regional Jobs and Growth Packages. A key part of this involves working with the UK’s Centre for Cities so we can build on the lessons from the UK.
We have also been talking to regional leaders around the country as well as people at the State and Federal level involved in implementation to get a sense of what is possible and seen as priorities.
We would welcome additional perspectives from local leaders on the City Deals or Regional Jobs and Growth Packages as well as case studies of the kind of investment or approaches City Deals can activate. Please get in touch with Jack Archer or Leonie Pearson if you can contribute to our work.