Small and medium-sized towns and cities (SMCs) are essential to boosting growth in the Northern Powerhouse, according to a new report from think tank, IPPR North.

The research finds that the North’s smaller cities represent one third of the Northern economy and play a key role supporting the growth of their bigger neighbours.

The report calls for greater recognition of the complementary roles played by SMCs as part of broader “city systems” to avoid the housing and congestion problems faced by London. This would be more like the kind of successful regions seen in Germany, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. Growth rates in the 20 SMCs with populations over 75,000 match levels seen in major cities. This includes Wigan, Doncaster, Burnley and Wakefield – with productivity in Wigan higher than in neighbouring Manchester.

The analysis also finds that many small and medium-sized cities face significant challenges from not being better connected to bigger cities. But they can overcome these problems with a clear focus on their own economic strengths; tackling local skills problems; and collaborating with big-city neighbours.

The report recommends:

•Treating SMCs in a similar way to the way government treats small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with bespoke support to foster local strengths.

•Taking a more “European” attitude to how we plan our economy, instead of following US city-thinking which is more suited to countries with large distances between cities – European cities tend to be much more interconnected than American cities.

•Reviewing the London-centric system of transport funding which favours major cities, to a system which takes more understanding of the emerging evidence on the role of smaller cities in the wider “urban ecosystem”.

•Small and medium-sized cities need to do more to identify and articulate their unique roles as part of wider “city systems”.

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