Devo-maxed out? keep the faith, but be pragmatic. Its going to be a long-term iterative process, not a holy grail or big bang
I’m all for more powers for cities, regions and localities, but sometimes I get tired of reading the tea leaves and sifting the oracles for the next big thing! I just want to see the proposals, see the delivery framework sand models, and see the £££s! All too often local devolution is portrayed as a grand promise that seems too good to be true – mostly because it lacks the detail to judge whether it is a good deal for local communities or not.
Skills is a case in point – please someone, show me a new local/region skills model that is up and running and is being delivered? a skills board does not count. I want to see something fundamental that shakes up the funding models, the providers, the employers too (half of whom don’t have an HR or training plan).
Last week I spoke at the Responsible Finance annual conference. It was great to learn more about the good work of CDFIs and other alternative finance initiatives. I guess I was there to provide a perspective on the ground. What struck me was that we don’t have many answers in terms of how local devolution will impact on many aspects of local delivery, such as alternative finance. Its not because we’re daft – there just isn’t the detail in place to assess this. The devolutions models might be established in places such as Manchester and Cambridge – but we’re still not sure how that translates into better delivery and better solutions.
We need to be able to better understand how devolution might impact existing priorities and deliver, as well as open up new opportunities and solutions
What also struck me is that it would be all to easy to stop anything happening whilst we waited for the perfect institutional governance system – that has money, democratic accountability, can somehow manage to incorporate everyone’s interests (even those adjacent to, but not part of the new combined authority). I’m not denying that democratic accountability isn’t important, but I’m also a pragmatist at heart and like to see a bit of action on the ground to win hearts and minds, as well as a fist full of promises.
My experience of Whitehall is – when things are done in a hurry, such as local devolution – don’t expect the perfect solutions, don’t expect a neat solution that will last for the next century.
Other experience of Whitehall – institutional and governance changes at the local level are always done in haste and rarely last more than 10 years (RDAs, TECs, Business Links, City Challenge, Urban Development Corporations, English Partnerships… and the list goes on).
So maybe, just maybe… the local devolution project is an iterative one. We will be constantly adjusting and improving it as time goes on.
We need to keep momentum going in terms of local priorities and delivery, whilst we deal with the machinations of government
Also there’s nothing wrong with applying your own tactical and long-term understanding to grab the powers and initiatives that suit you in the short and long term, and where the benefits are clear. If the benefits are not clear, don’t get your arm twisted into accepting it. Negotiate.
Why can’t the government to set out clear objectives for local devolution and to establish a schedule of powers to be handed down in an orderly fashion?
OK its hard sometimes, But keep the faith!
And, economic development professionals and advocates – the challenges and opportunities facing our communities remain the same. The toolkit is also still there – it might actually get better with devolution. Keep the faith, but keep the pragmatism and entrepreneurship to deal with, influence and improve the machinations of government.