When it comes to local growth, no one sector holds the ring | Michael Wood

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With plans for the pioneering Local Growth Academy now at an advanced stage, Michael Wood reflects on five stand out insights from progress so far.

Gauging knowledge of and interest in the local growth agenda is not an easy piece of market research. How do you define local? How should institutions interact with each other? What if my area doesn’t get a devolution deal? Many questions, multiple potential answers.

The number and mix of attendees registered for the first ever Local Growth Academy recognises that while knowledge may be mixed, the interest in this agenda is high. More than 120 senior managers and leaders from the university, health and local government sectors have chosen to come together to learn about and discuss this emerging agenda, and to challenge our existing sectoral perspectives. 

So what should we expect? Some points stand out from my early conversations with the soon-to-be delegates:

No one sector holds the ring  
The government’s continued focus on place removes the comfort blanket of sectoral control. 

No one sector can be responsible for a local economy realising its potential, of course, but leaders are now realising that assuring their future institutional plans is increasingly dependent on what happens around them. 

A ‘devo deal’ is not necessary for change 
While combined authority areas are represented, this agenda is relevant for all. Business rates, for example, will soon be localised across England – not just in areas with devolution plans. 

What is a necessary driver is a vision around a place – one that binds the many sectors together in a way that shares local risk and reward.

Priorities differ, but that’s fine  
The reasons given for registering are unsurprisingly varied. 

Some are embarking on new joint capital ventures and want to make sure their strategies or business cases are watertight. Some are curious as to the range and type of partnerships needed to truly work at scale. Some want to be in a position to lead future local conversations about local growth. 

Metrics, governance and culture 
While each sector has its own complicated rulebook, it is increasingly clear that these do not by themselves encourage, enable or ensure local success across a place. 

I sense a growing interest in understanding the various rigidities and flexibilities that our sectors collectively have, and how working together can make sure the local sum is greater than the parts.

Blending the programme 
The final words should be ones of praise for the organisations involved in drawing up the session plans. 

For some the content is highly complex, focusing on detailed financial planning. Others are faced with the challenge of reflecting and bridging competing cultural quirks. 

Expect a whirlwind of presentations, discussions, challenges, war-games – whatever it takes to move on the mind-set.

There is still time to register for the Local Growth Academy. I can’t promise you that we will be able to answer the questions I posed in the opening paragraph, but I can say with confidence that you will have not have experienced this breadth of discussions in one place before. 

Michael Wood is the NHS local growth adviser at the NHS Confederation and deputy local growth consultant at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Follow him on Twitter @NHSLocalGrowth

Find out more about the Local Growth Academy

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