Devolution is creating new challenges and opportunities, requiring both central and local government to operate in different ways. With a number of devolution deals done, and many more still on the negotiating table, what does it take to get a deal over the line?
For devolution to be successful, local government needs to build effective working relationships with neighbouring authorities and across the public and private sector.
For central government, the challenge will be in ensuring that local institutions have the capacity and capability to deliver on their new powers and responsibilities, and find a way of maintaining appropriate oversight while ‘letting go’.
Against this backdrop, working with NLGN, we took two local government teams away over 24 hours to ‘game’ the future of the fictional combined authority of Chamberlainville. Teams had to work together to develop a strategy for the city-region and then negotiate a devolution deal with central government.
Will devolution be a game-changer for Chamberlainville? What are the implications for next steps on devolution for central and local government?
As devolution deal negotiations rumble on, we took 24 hours away to consider the future of the fictional combined authority of Chamberlainville, a city with lots of potential but also many challenges.
Does devolution have the potential to resolve Chamberlainville’s problems?
Simon Parker, director, NLGN: “Over the last 24 hours, we’ve given a bunch of senior managers from local government this fake city, Chamberlainville, to play with, it’s based on Merseyside. They’ve all taken on the roles of chief executives of the boroughs, they’re working together as a combined authority, and their job is to use the opportunities of devolution to reduce demand for public services and to pump up growth to bring in more income.”
Guided by principles set by the Metro Mayor, the teams set about developing high level priorities for Chamberlainville’s future.
A visit from the central government team then set out Whitehall’s devolution ‘no brainers’ and ‘deal breakers’, including “no new money”, “engagement from the public and the business community”, and “demonstrating net additional growth”.
With the central government advice in mind, the local government teams began turning their priorities into strategies for place transformation, and as a result working out their devolution asks and offers.
Finally, the Chamberlainville teams were ready for negotiations with central government.
Face to face and under time pressure, the local and central teams negotiated and eventually secured a deal for their city.
At the end of the 24 hours, central and local teams reunited to share what they had learned and to consider the implications.
Sue Derbyshire: “What I will take away is really that message of how enthusiastic across local government people are to take on the responsibility and the risks to deliver better outcomes for local communities, where central government working from the centre with one size fits all has not really served many of our communities well.”
Paul Hyde, transformation programme lead, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council: “The process has enabled a different dialogue with colleagues and people have worked together in a different environment that’s quite unusual which has worked well and I’m sure that when we reflect on the things that we’ve talked about a lot of the things could be transferable into real life situations.”
Chris Bally, assistant director, Suffolk County Council: “It’s been a great opportunity to get away and just really think in a bit more detail about things like devolution, about health and social care integration, and around some of those big challenges that face local government. I think we’ve at a cusp in terms of our relationship with central government and how public services work in the future so it’s been a really good opportunity to just think a little bit more deeply about what that might mean.
In East Anglia, we’re working on a devolution deal which is really interesting, there’s loads of stuff I can take away practically about what’s going on.”
Ben Pykett, PwC: “I think the thing I’m going to take away from this is that there needs to be far more focus on outcomes, dealing with the causes of social problems, rather than worrying about service provision and, in fact, in the future, local government will be far more concerned with creating the conditions for growth rather than dealing with peoples’ problems.”
While there was no shortage of ambition or ideas for Chamberlainville, the challenge is in making the space to think creatively and plan strategically for the future while still delivering for today.
Simon Parker, director, NLGN: “I hope the outcomes are that the people here are going back to their authorities having learned from each other, having put together some interesting ideas, having opened their minds and thought differently about what’s possible and taking that into the real world and implementing that in devolution deals in their places.”
Rachel North, deputy chief executive, Tewkesbury Borough Council: “We’re facing unprecedented change in public services and we really need to think radically and creatively to do things differently. I’d take that passion for change back into the working environment on Monday, that we actually can do some of these things, it may seem quite difficult sometimes to imagine the future, it’s quite challenging, but actually we have the ideas in the sector and we can use them.”
James Blake, chief executive, St Albans: “One thing to take away and put in to action, I think actually setting up the right kind of conversation at, in our case, county level, to generate more strategic, long term ideas rather than simply starting with what’s in others people’s devolution deals and thinking about how that might apply to us.”
Julia Goldsworthy, PwC: “I think the thing that local government should take away for the next round of devolution deals is just the real opportunity there is in being ambitious and being creative about what you want to achieve.”