How to do local inclusive growth - Step 4: make institutions effective across organisational boundaries

21 December 2018

By CPP

7 minute read

This post is the latest in our series about the six steps local authorities can take to make inclusive growth happen. Having started with a shared mission, deep, data-driven understanding of local barriers and need for innovative finance and investment, we now turn to collaboration across institutional boundaries.

The objective here is to build local governance arrangements that reinforce inclusive growth within and across institutional boundaries. This will underpin shared accountability, integrated policy and public service design and collaborative behaviours, whilst enabling the alignment of resources to achieve a place-based vision of inclusive growth.

Developing existing institutional structures and deciding when to start new ones

Some of the most effective levers available to local places will involve organisations, sectors and partners outside the day-to-day control of local authorities. An example of reaching for those levers is the innovative City Office, set up by Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees. It is designed to mobilise effort across the city, using the influence and heft of the mayor, to make things happen around very specific problems. City challenges are not solved by councils alone: they require the mobilisation of all the capabilities and resources across a place, which is how Rees began – involving local churches in tackling homelessness over Christmas. The idea emerged from the one-city planning style of the American mayors, and from his own previous experience with the Local Strategic Partnership – an early attempt to collaborate across organisational boundaries.

The Bristol City Office provides a cross-sector model for inclusive, place-based governance. With inclusive growth ‘action plans’ expected in January 2019, the mayor’s approach has created a platform for the City Office to be an effective driver of long-term change that is:

  • Driven by the leadership and collaboration of external city partners, including business leaders and social innovators, who are committed to the future of Bristol as an inclusive, sustainable economy – as set out in their One City Plan.
  • Supported by the city council’s directors, who are expected to help the City Office projects thrive but to defer to the partnership boards responsible for strategic development and co-delivery.
  • Inclusive in its engagement with community groups, civil society organisations, businesses and other major employers – to ensure diverse leadership.
  • Accountable, through the mayor, to the people of Bristol.
  • Connected to innovative means of financing projects and initiatives, such as the City Funds (see Step 3 of our series).
  • Bolstered by high quality research and analysis, in partnership with think tanks and local universities.
  • Underpinned by city council administrative support to maintain momentum.

Other examples of different institutional approaches include:

  • The Barking & Dagenham approach, which forges the local authority as an instrument of inclusive growth (including a Director for Inclusive Growth).
  • The Inclusive Growth Unit in the West Midlands Combined Authority, comprised of a diverse range of local and national partners advising the mayor and the combined authority.
  • The National Growth Innovation Network, based out of Chicago, which brings together practitioners to innovate and nurture new approaches to inclusive growth in cities and city-regions across the United States.

The political landscape, as well as the size of each area and the extent to which different local decision-making bodies overlap will determine which institutional frameworks work best. Which organisations or leaders – whether in the public, private or social sectors – need to be involved? Of these, which is best placed to build legitimacy around the inclusive growth agenda? Who else needs to come together to overcome barriers to whole-system, whole-place collaboration? Can existing institutions enable this, or are new structures and processes needed to effect real change?

It may be possible to use existing structures to deliver inclusive growth. The Mayor of London’s Good Work Standard can have an impact since the Greater London Authority employs almost 80,000 people (1.4 per cent of London’s workforce) across City Hall, the capital’s transport network, police and fire services. As a result, the mayor can improve many Londoners’ experiences of work via the Responsible Procurement Policy and the London Living Wage. Similarly, West Yorkshire’s ‘No Silver Bullet’ report and Lower Paid Workers’ Group led its local authorities to pay a living wage to all staff, and to give out a non-pay benefits package worth around £1,000 a year to the lowest paid – a process which has also provided them with a channel of communication with their staff, including contractor staff who can be harder to reach.

Potential pitfalls

Inclusive growth and its integration of economic and social policy is – in effect – systems thinking in action. This is complex and can be messy. For collaborative, place-based approaches to be successful, national targets and regulatory incentives might have to be adapted to reflect shared objectives. Greater Manchester’s experience of joint commissioning of health and social care speaks to the increasing need for more sophisticated engagement between local, sub-regional and national government. As the devolution agenda evolves, with places taking on different levels of responsibility for different services and policy areas, a more flexible (albeit potentially more complex) regulatory environment will be needed – both horizontally (enabling integration and collaboration between institutions locally) and vertically (between tiers of government).

Currently, many mayors and other senior leaders use the language of inclusive growth without having developed the kind of arrangements within and between local authorities that are necessary to reinforce it. Several combined authorities are working through how inclusive growth can be an objective against which all strategic economic and social policy decisions are assessed at board level. However, coordinating across the breadth of local and sub-regional committees, budgets and governance arrangements is no mean feat – particularly in the face of traditional institutional demarcations. Managing complexity and deploying place-based systems thinking requires a clear commitment to a shared vision of inclusive growth.

Wrap up

In practice, institutional set up and solutions will have to reflect local situations. Whichever new structures or configurations are planned, they must be able to provide the visionary political leadership required to set the mission of inclusive growth, whilst reaching within and beyond existing institutional structures.