There are three things I want to see happen in local government in 2017.
The best thing I did in the last month was to accept an invitation to join a group of aspirant chief executives to share some ideas about what modern leadership entails, especially when it comes to operating within complex partnerships and geographies (we had sustainability and transformation plans and combined authorities on our minds).
I suspect this session will feature in my top ten moments of 2017 because it was so full of energy and potential but it also brought into stark relief the schism that too frequently opens up between policy formulation and its execution when we forget to spend time on thinking through the role of leadership in effective delivery.
Our journals, conferences and meetings are stuffed with policy exposition and analysis - I’m as guilty as anyone on this front - but it’s far rarer that we see sufficient consideration of how to lead change. No policy or supporting implementation plan is worth the paper it’s written on if there isn’t an emotionally intelligent parallel discourse about how to get the humans lined up for collective delivery.
So, let’s have more about the leadership of complexity and change please.
We have just seen the first fruits of No.10’s thinking about an industrial strategy. This is good. I am in favour of one in principle and I will be even more in favour of it in practice if, when it’s finalised, said strategy puts three elements centre-stage.
First, it needs to run with Greg Clark’s words: “Economic growth doesn’t happen in the abstract. It happens in particular places when a business… is set up, or takes on more people, or extends its production”, and “in my view any industrial strategy needs to be local”. Those of us in local government couldn’t agree more. The green paper recognises this but the reliance on place-based, devolution-empowered economic plans could be even stronger and, following the consultation, I hope this will be the case.
Second, it is important the government’s approach is seen to be mission-led. That is, the strategy needs to be clear on what challenges – social, economic, political, technological, etc – it is trying to address, and then secure agreement about them. The challenges themselves will need to become concrete missions that are problem-specific, although not so narrow that the impact of implementation would be negligible. So, let’s hear more about the overall breadth of purpose that on which the strategy is designed to deliver, e.g. enabling people to live well and live long; tackling climate change and air quality; and ensuring productivity is both a private and public sector agenda.
Third, if we are to put national policy in perfect harmony with subnational place-based strategy and delivery, then now is the time to recognise the kind of competitiveness we are seeking is not between cities and their regions, but between the UK PLC and the rest of the world. The industrial strategy will ultimately be judged by the extent to which it enables growth and productivity across the British Isles, not compared to internal averages or even best-in-class, but in terms of whether it can outstrip the ten best performing economies across the rest of the world.
So, let’s have a locally-attuned, purpose-driven and outward-looking industrial strategy please.
Can we introduce the idea of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when talking about care? That is, you only get two more chances hereon in not to mention the NHS and social care in the same breath before being compulsorily retired to the pavilion.
I am for the NHS. I am for social care. I am also for education, housing, jobs and generally a life well-lived and characterised by health, wealth and happiness. But I am even more for seeing these things as being part of an indivisible, complex, interdependent ecology that cannot be sorted out by atomised thinking, funding or reform.
So, if we want safe, accessible, affordable and sustainable care, then let’s stop talking in silos and start doing in systems. It is the only way forward because we know that when it comes to ‘my deficit is bigger than your deficit’ competitions there’s only one certainty and it’s captured in the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time.
Mark Rogers, chief executive, Birmingham City Council