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Key Cities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Cllr John Merry CBE
October 2, 2020
In the first of a series of monthly blog posts, Key Cities Chair Cllr John Merry CBE shares his views on the COVID-19 pandemic and the work of the Key Cities Group in recent months.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has undoubtedly been a year that has presented unique and significant challenges for the UK’s towns and cities. At Key Cities, we have been working closely with our members to ensure our voices are heard by central Government, whilst highlighting the role of our towns and cities as the UK continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and realigns its relationship with Europe.

Launching the Key Cities Manifesto

In September, we were delighted to launch the Key Cities Manifesto with a broad range of stakeholders during a virtual event which included keynotes speakers Julie Elliott MP (Labour MP for Sunderland Central and co-chair of the Key Cities APPG), Onward and the National Infrastructure Commission.

The Key Cities Manifesto has been developed with the input of our members and highlights how the Government can open up opportunities for inclusive, regional growth and boost the economic prosperity of the UK overall.

Considering the diversity of our members and specialisms across sectors such as ports, advanced manufacturing and arts and culture, Key Cities is a natural partner for Government in seeking to address the levelling up-agenda.

Our manifesto examines topics and policies that will be critical to the UK’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, from business resilience to the future of our town centres and high streets, and addressing the root causes of the climate emergency. The member case studies clearly demonstrate Key Cities’ track record of delivery in these areas, which can serve as testbeds for initiatives that could be scaled-up UK wide.

We look forward to working with central government to inform the policy decisions over the next 12 months which are likely to have wide-reaching consequences for the UK’s towns and cities during the remainder of this century.

Reconstituting the APPG

Following the outcome of the 2019 General Election, we are proud to have reconstituted the Key Cities APPG, with the appointment of two new co-chairs of the APPG – Julie Elliott MP and John Stevenson MP (Conservative MP for Carlisle).

The Key Cities APPG provides a forum for Parliamentarians to discuss matters of mutual interest and ensure that all UK cities are placed on a sustainable footing to deliver continued, inclusive economic group.

Our inaugural APPG meeting in July provided a thoughtful discussion around the policy areas within the Key Cities manifesto, and we look forward to meeting again this year to discuss the policy areas that are so critical to our towns and cities right now.

Freeports Consultation

The UK’s ports, many of whom are within the Key Cities Group, are a major employer and contribute around £9.7bn to the UK economy each year. In recent months, we have been working closely with the Department for International Trade in the development of its Freeports Initiative.

Our proposal is to create a Freeports working group, including relevant cities, to ensure the views and expertise of port cities are considered as the concept of Freeports evolves. Whilst we endorse the Government’s approach, with many of our members interested in exploring Freeport status, we have raised several economic and business considerations that need to be addressed as part of the DIT’s approach.

Supporting our Cultural Sectors

Within the Key Cities alone, the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors are home to around 57,000 jobs and deliver an estimated £2bn in GVA annually. There can be no shying away from the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit these sectors especially hard due to their reliance on footfall.

As a group, we acted quickly to consult our members on some of the core issues facing cultural and heritage organisations to identify the areas that require further consideration following the £1.57bn. support package announced by the Government for the cultural and heritage sectors.

In a letter to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we outlined the importance of these sectors to our towns and cities, voiced the need for central government to work more closely with local partners in formulating solutions to specific challenges brought on by COVID-19, whilst raising our concerns around the brevity of the furlough scheme and the need for a longer-term recovery plan for the sector.

The UK works best when it works together

I am incredibly proud of the work of Key Cities and its members during what has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us. Key Cities and its partners remain committed to working together, sharing our knowledge and developing solutions to the challenges that the UK will face as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cllr. John Merry CBE, Deputy Mayor, Salford City Council and Key Cities, Chair

Should you be interested in learning more about how you can work with Key Cities, please contact

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