Press release

Britain’s Cities, Britain’s Future

A new book by Mike Emmerich

Why did Britain’s cities, once the engines of the industrial revolution and the envy of the world, decline so severely? What needs to be done if our major cities are once again to be the drivers of Britain’s economy? This book answers these questions, looking at the lessons of the last two hundred years.

Britain invented the modern industrial city in the nineteenth century but by the late twentieth century most British industrial cities had become basket cases, growing again only recently. Today London overshadows the rest of the country, as the UK’s only ‘world city’. No other large country is anything like as economically and politically centralized. This concentration of power damages Britain’s economy and fuels the sense of discontent felt by the millions of people for whom the capital seems like another planet.

Yet it is cities that are fuelling economic growth around the world. Britain’s cities are once again growing. But there is a big gap between their performance and that of others in the developed world, and the gap between London and the rest is widening.

Why did Britain’s cities, once the engines of the industrial revolution and the envy of the world, decline so severely? What is fuelling their revival? And what needs to be done if our major cities are once again to be the drivers of Britain’s economy? This book answers these questions, looking at the lessons of the last two hundred years. These must be heeded if we are to have any hope of Britain’s cities delivering the same prosperity post-Brexit as they did in the UK’s first rise to global power.

  • Mike Emmerich looks at the DNA of cities and how it expresses itself in their institutions, governance, public services, religion and culture.
  • He argues that the UK needs a devolutionary ratchet, allowing major cities the freedom to seek devolution of any area of public spending that is not inherently national in nature.
  • Cities should have increased powers to raise some of their own taxes, including business, property and sales based taxes.
  • He calls for sustained investment in transport and infrastructure, and also training.
  • An innovation-centric industrial policy would also have an emphasis on the social fabric of cities and – crucially – their institutions.

“Mike Emmerich has been a passionate voice for the exciting, albeit still very limited, devolution that has taken place in the past couple of years in England. The fact that this devolution was led by Greater Manchester, where Mike was at the centre of the group that persuaded Whitehall to go down this path, suggests that his ideas on, and enthusiasm about, the project should be read by anyone interested in the topic. As someone who was motivated and supported by Mike during this journey, I hope his publishing a book on the issues adds to the devolutionary momentum and helps deliver some of the things he calls for.”

Lord Jim O’Neill, former Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and former Chair of the Cities Growth Commission.

“This book is a timely reminder that Britain’s cities continue to need development and powers to craft their own futures.  This is seen as a risk at the centre, where giving away power seems foolhardy.  But the benefits of allowing our cities beyond London to shape their own investment programmes and build their own business networks is exemplified by how Manchester, where Emmerich has been based for many years, has revived and regained its confidence.”

Bridget Rosewell OBE, Senior Adviser at Volterra Partners and Commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission

“In this absorbing book, Mike Emmerich draws on his extensive experience in central and local government and on a wealth of historical, political and economic literature to explain what has happened to Britain’s cities and how urban policy could and should respond.”

Professor Henry G. Overman, London School of Economics.

“Mike Emmerich has written a wise and timely book about the need to devolve power and empower cities in Britain.  As in the United States, this is the pathway to national renewal and a more competitive, democratic and inclusive society.”

Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and co-author of The Metropolitan Revolution

Five big takeaway ideas from 200 years of urban Britain, drawing on the recent success of London.

Stop thinking small, and stop thinking only about now. Success takes a generation or two but it needs to start somewhere. We need to invest in the right things, do so at scale, and we need to keep investing for a long time. So what does this mean in practice?

  1. We need more and better transport. Create certainty that the big population centres will be linked by fast road and rail. HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Manchester/Sheffield road are all needed. Investors need to be certain that they will be delivered.
  1. We need to build more housing, and support communities in all the big cities: in city centres, in the suburbs and at the fringes. We must invest in schools and amenities to drive up the quality of life, making every neighbourhood feel liveable.
  1. We need major investment in local market research to bring together city business and universities: creating strong local institutions that push the boundaries of the possible in innovation, creating jobs and growth.
  1. We need similarly strong local skills institutions: funded and led by employers and the state, driving high-quality skills into local labour markets with a focus on the long term.
  1. We need to do all of the above to create jobs for the people who got left behind in cities, and give them a leg up into those jobs through high-quality temporary jobs in the community.

To achieve all of this, cities need devolved powers and funds from government alongside bolder ambition and strong leadership of their own.

Notes for Editors

Mike Emmerich is one of Britain’s leading specialists on cities. After twenty years spent in public service at HM Treasury and 10 Downing Street, and then in Manchester where he played a leading role in creating the devolution revolution, Mike now runs his own company, MetroDynamics, advising cities in and beyond the UK on urban economic policy and governance.

Britain’s Cities, Britain’s Future will be published on 15 March 2017 in the ‘Perspectives’ series, edited by Diane Coyle.

ISBN 978-1-907994-62-3 — £9.99 paperback — 176pp

For more on the series, see

And to preorder the book at a 25% discount off the cover price, see

For a proof or review copy or to contact the author, contact LPP: