Sunday, 28 February, 2021


Jamie Ounan

We believe that the best solutions are yet to be discovered and the best outcomes yet to be delivered. That is why we prepare organisations for change and help them implement it. We do this through an intimate understanding of their business, a relentless focus on delivery, the use of techniques that challenge the status quo and bridge traditional disciplines. We provide a range of services to public and private organisations including project and programme management, property consultancy, change management and strategy development and strategic advice. Contact us to discuss a project.

Sunday, 28 February 


What we’re seeing and what we’ve been up to 

Perhaps it was the end to that dreadful cold snap, the news that some of our team’s nearest and dearest have started to be vaccinated, or just the glimpse of bright blue sky for the first time in weeks, but it feels as if spring is just around the corner and with it, the hope for closer connections just behind it. The blue skies and warm sunlight this weekend also has us turning our thoughts to the future and how we’ll face it.

Times like this, full of working and learning from home, present us all with space for reflection on what we consider to be the ‘norm.’ How many conversations over a screen or socially distant have we had where someone mentions “when we get back to normal” or “here’s what we did back before all this?” These once-in-a-generation global events give us all the unique opportunity for change. We’re of the firm belief that there can be no going back to the old norm. Indeed, our opportunity to crystallise ideas into solid action is already happening.

Scholars peg the Black Death of the 14th century as a crisis that accelerated the end of serfdom. A world recovering from WW2 witnessed consumer spending become a new machine and the 1950’s Age of Consumerism was born. These changes were underpinned by incredible shifts in priorities and an evolution in common values. Dominant cultural values regulate behaviour in social groups and cultures and, in turn, inform national and international regulations. They are also shaped by a plethora of forces and circumstances; the current global landscape — such as living through a pandemic — is no exception. As we see a successful rollout of vaccine across the country, we’re left to ponder the new values and priorities that will be established. Will we turn to a new age of thinking? Will our relationships and the bonds of social fabric transform? And how will our governments, local, national, and international, respond?

Rishi Sunak is set to announce the most important Budget of this century and while the figures will certainly command headlines, we’ll be looking for the values and priorities that are contained in the policy and how people and places will be impacted. Our hope, and we tend to be an optimistic bunch, is that this budget can nudge us all towards a society that cares for our environment, our health, our fellow citizens and older generations, and our towns and cities. In short, we could see the start of a new approach to our moral and environmental “commons.”

What we’re learning and watching 

Elinor Ostrom’s work on governing the commons, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009, may be helpful for those of us thinking through public policy in the post COVID-19 world. Before her work, the conventional view of economists was that people would always destroy anything they held in common; standard theories postulated that human societies would destroy ‘the commons’ by, for example, over-fishing, over-grazing, and over-exploiting water supplies.

Ostrom famously demonstrated that what economists claimed to be true in theory, humans cheerfully ignored in practice. She noted that, throughout history and, crucially, under certain circumstances, human societies have successfully valued and protected things they held in common. In that vein, it appears that big business are coalescing around the shared goal of a cleaner, greener future. HSBC, Intel, Arup, and Tesco are among the global businesses backing the launch of a new business network created to help companies, cities, and governments confront emerging global economic and environmental shocks. More than 600 businesses, with annual revenues of more than $3 trillion and employing more than 10 million people across 150 countries, are supporting The Resilience Shift and Resilience First, the world’s largest resilience business network. The new network brings together disparate industries – from finance, to retail, technology, engineering and the built environment – to help governments and businesses promote economic recovery and shape post-pandemic stimulus that builds resilience and accelerates global decarbonisation efforts. The shift, it would seem, is already underway.

We’ve been listening to the BBC’s, The Digital Humanwhich explores building trust in the lockdown age. Taking measure of someone is an almost instinctive undertaking – a real-time process of big data analysis for hundreds of cues. Working online verges towards the “uncanny valley” – video calls are like a conversation but slightly different and just ‘off’ enough to be disassociating. Building trust is harder – missed connections, constant interference – and people have the ability to curate their persona in a way that is far more challenging in real life. All of this can lead to some tricky challenges for creating relationships, particularly for new starters to an organisation. Our key take away: we could all benefit from being more empathetic. In a world where curation is ubiquitous, the warmer, kinder, and more expansive approach is one that builds trust across project teams, leadership groups, and key stakeholders.

Some great tunes has got us in an optimistic mood for a socially-closer summer! If you need a jolt of energy, tune into the The Regeneration Arms Dukebox Spotify playlist, a highly curated jukebox created by the team at Inner Circle. Our personal recommendation is to play during your digital commute (that time between work and your brain finally switching off) or while cooking. Nothing like a bit of Smokey Robinson to get your mind right.

What’s going on 

The Levelling Up Fund is on everyone’s mind. The extension of the Levelling Up Fund was announced last week, pushing this fund out to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as England. Whilst additional support for local economies is good news, it comes with caveats: it is part funded by money being diverted from the Towns Fund, originally announced in 2019, and there will be competitive bidding rounds to access levelling up funding. The attention from central government has been increasingly focussed on data-led, evidence-based initiatives with robust evaluation – so prepare to put in the up front work to access the Levelling Up Fund. The authorities most likely to be on the front foot will be those that are thinking about their local economic and growth strategies now. Our number one tip: if possible, consider forward funding an economic and growth business case that considers key anchor projects and their impact. This work can take time, and central government is often looking for short turn around submissions and shovel-ready projects. Creating your strength of narrative early is vital.

Meanwhile, the Treasury is also finalising £180m of funding for new “carbon capture and storage” schemes in far-flung sites, which will capture CO2 emissions to tackle climate change, including Net Zero Teesside and Zero Carbon Humber. We’re working with a number of Council’s on Route to Zero and renewable energy projects and we’re pleased to see the government taking steps toward progressing parts of the New Green Deal.

The government’s outlined roadmap to reopening, whilst always prevaricating between “confirmed” and “this might change,” nevertheless gives us hope that we’ll see each other again for a drink in June. Until then, we wish you well.