This year’s Solace summit in Liverpool gave us plenty to think about.
The big challenges facing local government over the next parliament include increased demand in statutory services, heightened risk in child protection, place-making for districts, counties and metropolitan councils alike, and of course, the core issue of growth.
Growth for growth’s sake is meaningless. What we need is sustainable, equitable growth, shared across a place, with equal access to the benefits and proceeds for affluent and deprived communities, whether the authority is highly prosperous with a strong economic base, or highly deprived, facing substantial structural economic weaknesses.
Chief executives get this agenda, and are working hard to support elected members to deliver it. We heard on the one hand impatience from Mark Rogers, the Solace president, about the pace and shared accountability for improvement.
On the other hand, we have Sir Derek Myers, past chair of Solace, and his upcoming report, which will redefine the transformation challenge for councils, with substantial changes in demand management and ‘irreversible’ service change likely to feature highly.
Growth cannot come second to debates on managing austerity and statutory services and if the mood of Solace members is anything to go by, it is unlikely to do so. For district, county and metropolitan chiefs, growth is just as important.
Increasingly muscular English local enterprise partnerships, and the advent of combined authorities, make this a great opportunity for local government, as shared ownership of growth becomes the norm.
Only this week the RSA’s city growth commission demonstrated in a major new study that devolution to cities would deliver a 5% productivity boost to the economy, equivalent to boosting economic growth by £79bn a year by 2030. After the Scottish referendum, devo-max, or the newly coined ‘devo-met’, are increasingly powerful arguments for growth, with councillors and Solace members championing this cause to government.
At NIACE I’m pleased we are playing a transformational national role with local government in this area. Our new prospectus for English LEPs and combined authority areas launches this autumn and will showcase the large-scale applied regeneration and development programmes we have already completed across the UK to tackle the adult skills crisis that could hamstring the recovery, and will show how we are rolling these out across the country.
We’re supporting local government do what it does best: to articulate local needs and drive a collaborative strategy to tackle these. After one of the best Solace summits in many years, it’s great to see a renewed energy and confidence about this across a local government going into the next parliament.
Tom Stannard is the deputy chief executive of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education