Growth coalitions and 'smart local government'

Policy and regeneration consultant and IDeA Associate Consultant, Adam Fineberg explains how growth coalitions can deliver focused partnerships, creating sustainable outcomes for community well-being.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's recent interim evaluation of Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) provides evidence that overall LSPs are making good progress, but some still have “considerable distance to travel” to meet their key objectives. Some LSPs have found it difficult to fully engage public sector bodies. Getting businesses involved has also been a problem.

The report states that LSPs’ strategies are very varied in quality with few LSPs able to point to specific impacts in improved services or tangible improvements in social, economic or environmental outcomes for local people. LSPs were intended to “add value” to these local efforts, but the evaluators cautioned against expecting too much of LSPs too soon.

One could infer that LSPs do not operate and perform as originally intended, as they lack the incentives to induce partner engagement, commitment and joint working to address local issues in a concerted way.

'Growth coalitions' provide the incentive to realise this joint working by central governments’ pooling all regeneration-related funds to relevant local public service bodies, through the conduit of a growth and economic development-focused LSP.

Senior strategic players, from the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and the former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) originally involved with the development of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and LSPs, recognise the value of the growth coalitions project, in contributing to the current debate on LSPs and the future of local government.

Growth coalition: a definition

A growth coalition:

What do local authorities gain from growth coalitions?

Growth coalitions provide local authorities with a strategic opportunity and tool to exercise their community leadership role to improve well-being and economic development.

Growth coalitions, local area agreements and smart local government

The concept of smart local government has been developed alongside the growth coalitions project as an objective of the Government’s ten-year vision for localities. The Government is developing an increasingly economic emphasis for LAAs and Sir Michael Lyons’s (Director of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham) widened remit includes “local government’s role in facilitating economic growth”. This follows recent research undertaken by the Audit Commission, which found that the majority of local authorities’ corporate objectives were regeneration/economic development-focused.

There are suggestions in government that LAAs ultimately encompass the full range of services delivered by councils and their partners. In that context growth coalitions (as a vehicle for providing an over-arching, strategic agenda from which priorities for LAAs and Local Public Service Boards are identified) also make a contribution to discussions regarding the future of local government.

Hence the term 'smart local government', coined as the ‘growth coalitions’ project develops, representing the corporate objectives of the local authority. Local councils and their partners are taking such an approach, addressing and working towards the scenario presented by the ODPM’s ‘the future of local government’ project.

Working towards ‘smart local government’

Local authorities are considering how they can set about working to a new agenda where the challenges of Local Public Service Agreements and latterly LAAs, impact upon council activities. Many authorities are developing a tranche of projects and programmes are coming on stream through the council and through the work of a range of local partnerships. The LSP has a key role to play in this activity and in many cases it is a timely moment to take local authorities and their partners forward together.

Often, there is a range of matters to address with different groups. These groups include, staff at all levels, external partners and elected members. There is also the need to make the sum total of the whole, the projects and programmes, work better for localities. Growth coalitions, by creating an overarching strategic focus for projects and programmes in line with corporate priorities, can provide the objective and hence the glue to stick these initiatives together.

Community Plans and councils’ Corporate Plans are a good starting point. These high-level plans need to be smart in order that Department and Service plans, which draw from these, can be set in a meaningful performance management framework. Councils and their partners’ staff are the key to progress. They hold the key to unlocking the creative, collective potential of the council as a community leader.

In certain cases, there is need for joint learning and the development of a smart approach to local government. This is an evolutionary process, which requires dedication and resource.

Firstly, a council’s executive management team, council members and then those at all levels in the council need to come together to undertake a stocktake of where they are. At the same time the council will consider the new agenda and the impacts it will have on work in progress.

In effect, this is an informed, self-review process and generates an understanding of where staff fit together (across the silos and also in relation to the Community and Corporate plans). It will enable the council to realise where the priorities for action are, internally and externally with its partners.

The council can corporately communicate a clearer, smarter role for itself and re-engage on this basis with external partners, particularly fellow members of the LSP. This approach also ties in with changes in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) to focus more on partner working and community leadership locally.

Phil Woolas, the Minister responsible for LAAs has recently confirmed that there is a growing economic emphasis for the work of LAAs and hence the relevance of the growth coalitions project. This reflects recent ‘transitional’ developments in government and the introduction of the recently launched HM Treasury sponsored fourth economic block for LAAs.

Government developments

Senior people in Government and at the ODPM are now addressing the need for sustainable regeneration for deprived areas and re-connecting people and places with the mainstream economy along the lines of the growth coalitions model. The extended remit for the Lyons Review (reporting in time for the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review), will consider local government’s role in facilitating economic growth, providing the opportunity to realise ‘strengthened’ LSPs, led by and working to overarching corporate objectives locally.

Further information

Find out more about growth coalitions and smart local government.