“This feels like a public service board”.
A throwaway comment in a meeting convened to scope a new collaboration between a London borough, a higher education institution and other local partners prompted me to think about the state of local partnerships today.
It is a messy picture in terms of both the number of partnerships and the geographies they cover. Whitehall’s requirements have a big impact. Local enterprise partnerships, whose areas vary wildly, have been given a lead role in local economies. Health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) are enshrined in legislation.
In the early days some councils saw HWBs becoming the primary local partnership. This reflected the fact that the wider determinants of health cover pretty much everything a council and its partners do. In practice this hasn’t happened as HWBs have suffered from the magnetic pull of health and care integration (or more accurately delayed transfers of care) and the backwash from far less accountable sustainability and transformation plans.
Meanwhile, place is increasingly seen as an important driver in many policy areas. It features strongly in the government’s emerging industrial strategy. On a good day it is seen as key to achieving a sustainable way of meeting health needs. Universities are paying more and more attention to their local roots. Councils in combined authorities are seeking to use a powerful articulation of place to exert maximum impact across a wider geography.
By definition, crafting and communicating a compelling story of place and using it to enable investment and shape service delivery cannot be done by a council alone. It requires a forum in which local leaders can have the conversations and do the deals necessary to provide genuine place leadership. In some places that forum already exists. In other places, such as the London borough I referred to earlier, it is having to be created (or re-created).
If these local leaders’ boards are to be effective it is essential they are bespoke, reflecting local circumstances. If the right people are around the table and commit to collective action these boards will have the clout they need.
Central government should not seek to influence their role, shape or remit. They should never feature in government guidance or legislation. But they should be seen as a sign of effective local governance and for that reason they should expect to be given due recognition by those parts of the system on which government’s finger prints can be seen, including LEPs and STPs.
Phil Swann, executive chair, Shared Intelligence