Sunday, 9 May, 2021
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Sunday, 9 May
The Art of Turning Pledges into Action
WHAT’S GOING ON
The lead up to Super Thursday saw candidates place a strong emphasis on getting back on track, not least the Metro Mayors. Perceptions of a place and its trajectory matter deeply to the electorate. The Midlands and Northern incumbents talked of their positive track record for securing investment in local economies. Many challengers promised to up the ante on delivery, although there were many questions left to be answered in manifestos. On that theme, the Government’s lack of an overarching strategy for recovery was a non-issue for the electorate because the promise of a plethora of funds boosted optimism alongside the vaccine bounce.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST THEMES?
We can start with jobs. With millions furloughed and predictions of more losing their jobs after this summer, re-employment of the existing workforce and supporting new starters is vital. As we all know, there is very little time to correct this. The next 100 days will be crucial for every leader to have an impact on those that need support now, and given cities and surrounding conurbations and market towns are ultimately local labour markets wholly reliant a skilled workforce, getting this right could change the fundamental future of each place as our economies transition through Brexit and fully embrace the digital revolution.
One very pragmatic theme we’ve been working on at Inner Circle is aligning vast retrofit programmes to local labour. It’s not fancy, but sometimes tackling the basics will lead to the most meaningful progress. In our experience, councils have been good at brokering partnership with colleges and contractors to take on apprentices. Most big contractors now work hard at aligning their pipeline with training programmes. This is time, given the Brexit-driven changes in overseas labour. Now, the challenge for councils and Mayors is to broker internal partnerships; breaking down any silo working, moving beyond individual initiatives to manage housing renewal, re-cladding, and capital works pipeline as a single portfolio. A portfolio approach gives a clear view of the pipeline and with that comes a foundational principle of making progress: stability.
Councils and training providers can plan with confidence to work with young people on a rolling basis of apprenticeships and support them through clear learning and employment pathways. Our work has shown that getting this right can support thousands of stable jobs. Aligning training to housing delivery also tackles the second biggest electoral issue: homes.
We have worked with the ASELA partners in South Essex to create a stable pipeline of sites and a plan to increase the scale and pace of delivery through a coherent investment programme, stronger local partnership and greater direct delivery by the local authorities.
Partnership working has helped progress a YIMBY model. Elsewhere the Metro Mayor model seems to be at the forefront of accelerating housing delivery with their geographic spans and direct links to infrastructure programmes helping overcome hyper-local NIMBYism. All mayors have pledge more and better homes.
HOW WILL THIS BE FUNDED?
Also at play during the elections was the different approaches to tax and spending. I don’t see the left-right divide being bridged any time soon. What is interesting is the much-overlooked potential of public services to capture the wealth generated from investment and regeneration activities. There are many options available that help recycle the wealth created from public assets, knowledge and skills, putting money back into local communities and services, but rarely do we see a coherent strategic approach. All public discussions, particularly at election time, shy away from genuinely debating financial stability, preferring to focus on jibes about austerity or profligacy in office. The ever-growing demands of statutory spending items such as social care, and the relatively limited power over local finance (council taxes, business rates, and a smattering of other charges) means financial sustainability is a real issue that needs creative solutions. We’re working with several council CFOs to explore a more activist and commercial approach to financial stability whilst simultaneously delivering ‘good growth’ – more on that in future blogs.
Finally, how will local leaders link together government funding initiatives to create a coherent growth strategy? There’s a lot out there, including Levelling Up, Future High Streets, Towns, and Community Ownership funds. We’ve have also seen a new Brownfield Land Release fund come out mirroring what’s already in place for the Metro Mayors and Combined Authorities. Those leaders with a coherent plan and clarity on the outcomes they’re looking for will bend the funding to meet the needs. Those without a plan will secure funding, but will it truly level up? Now is the time to bring together a coherent strategy to ensure every penny gets the maximum impact. Something the electorate won’t be interested in at the ballot box, but they will be interested in for the years to come.
We are looking forward to working with leaders all over the country to take on the challenge of turning pledges and community pleas into serious business of government and delivery.