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6 February, 2016 - 16:35

The case for Cambridge as the world’s pre-eminent small city

Jane Paterson-Todd

Cambridge Ahead has a vision for Cambridge UK to be globally-recognised as the pre-eminent small city in the world. No one would disagree and some may argue it already is, writes Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead.

Whether reality or vision, Cambridge – like other cities – remains one of many economic actors playing out to a global audience of business investors.

What makes a city attractive is its continued reputational capital. This capital needs to have the right balance of ingredients: sector specific intellectual prowess; an abundance of skilled labour; a seamless and efficient transport connector between major hubs; attractive and affordable homes to live in and a strong quality of life for its residents.

Achieving this balance is top of our agenda at Cambridge Ahead, evidenced by our range of projects designed to improve the infrastructure in-line with Cambridge’s exceptional pace of growth.

In corporate employment alone, Cambridge-registered companies have achieved more than a seven per cent annual growth rate since 2011 and Cambridge is one of only 11 cities across the UK that is a net contributor to the Exchequer.

How Cambridge builds and maintains its reputation centres on establishing the right balance of supply in housing, transport and skills to meet its growth demand.

This can be achieved by collaboration and partnership between the key growth drivers from the private and public sectors with the ultimate aim of delivering a precise and clearly articulated investment ask to Central Government to support Cambridge’s buoyant economy. The result is The Case for Cambridge, comprising of a partnership between 11 organisations including the University of Cambridge, the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, The Chambers of Commerce, as well as the three local authorities.

The report and strategic plan were launched in the autumn of 2015 with the support of the city region’s three local MPs, Heidi Allen, Lucy Frazer QC and Daniel Zeichner.

We need to engage with Government to put forward a compelling case for infrastructure investment in key areas such as housing and transport. However, this is not entirely dependent on the public purse; it involves innovative private sector funding mechanisms for infrastructure, particularly around housing, recognising that in the current political climate further public funding will be limited beyond the £500 million City Deal secured by the local councils in 2014.

The initial response from HM Treasury has been favourable and The Case for Cambridge is building on that. What has become evident is that cities such as Cambridge need to look beyond their own geographical boundaries. 

Cities play on a global stage not just sub-regionally or nationally. What makes a city stand-out against fierce competition is based on reputational capital so getting that balance of ingredients right is key. 
A city that thinks more laterally and innovatively, accurately documenting its activities and putting forward alternative evidence led financing models for investment, will reap greater returns.

We must ensure that Cambridge does not miss the opportunity to become the world’s pre-eminent small city.

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