Seeds of Change: English Devolution and Central-Local Relations

Sarah Ayres, Matthew Flinders and Mark Sandford 

‘England’s devolution deals do not constitute a move away from traditional patterns of central-local relationships, though they may contain the seeds of change’.

That is the conclusion from our article, titled ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’, recently published in Regional Studies. Much recent debate and commentary has been generated by the priorities of the newly-elected metro-mayors and their implications for the sub-national governance of England. But there is a broader question: will they lead to longer-term change in relationships between central and local government in the UK?

The recent devolution initiatives within England provide an opportunity to reassess the relevance of Jim Bulpitt’s 1983 book, Territory and Power in the United Kingdom. This provided a then-novel portrait of UK territorial political relations. For Bulpitt, the UK central state had long favoured what he called the ‘central autonomy model’ of territorial relations. He saw central government’s priority as keeping its distance from local and parochial matters; and in turn, expecting that local governments will not usurp their authority and attempt to challenge the centre’s role. He coined the term ‘dual polity’ to describe the parallel roles adopted by centre and localities.

Since Bulpitt wrote, central attitudes to local government in England have become more readily interventionist. In that context, the initiatives towards devolution of power in the mid-2010s are of interest. A good deal of commentary has focused on whether this devolution is ‘real’. Does it constitute a challenge to the ‘central autonomy’ model of relations? Drawing on data from three academic research projects, we assessed whether there was evidence of such a shift to date. Does the way in which English devolution has been negotiated and delivered show that central-local relations are changing?

The findings indicated that the ‘territorial management code’ in England remains largely the same as the historical norm. In Bulpitt’s terms, the central autonomy model continues to dominate. Deals have been negotiated in private between civil servants and small groups of local elites. Central government has remained tight-lipped about its policy priorities, dampening the ability of localities to take the initiative. Localities are required to develop business cases for the handling of devolved powers, and to evaluate them against the terms of the ‘devolution deal’. Through the terms and conditions of devolution, central autonomy is retained in place. Even when some devolution deals collapsed following stakeholder and public disquiet, the Government did not deviate from this approach: and this insistence on control is visible in the current impasse over arrangements in Yorkshire.

Bulpitt also noted the prevalence of ‘court politics’, focused on a small number of decision-making individuals. The slowing of devolution policy following the departure from government of its chief architect, George Osborne, bears out the continued importance of this dimension of territorial management.

But there are also hints that the central autonomy model is not as dominant as it once was. The Government has not used its political resources as assiduously as it might have done. Local participants in negotiations reported genuine interest from civil servants in devolving power and encouraging local initiative: one stated that the Government was ‘desperate’ to conclude deals. This is quite different from what a central autonomy model would imply. Central autonomy also assumes a ‘bureaucratic machine’, via which the centre dominates the ‘periphery’. This is visible in the deals’ requirements for central oversight, but there is a constrained capacity for this to happen.

Central government’s governing strategy – to reaffirm its control over territorial relations – is largely hands-on. But again there are signs of change. The democratic mandate of elected mayors is a source of unpredictability: it could import political conflict into a system of governance much of which is designed around broad stakeholder consensus. In the longer term this could presage the evolution of English territorial relationships towards Bulpitt’s ‘capital city bargaining model’, involving local actors’ “interference in the centre’s affairs but often in a cooperative fashion”. This depends on whether metro-mayors can take the opportunity to establish themselves as significant political players, both in the institutional and cultural dimensions of English governance.

In summary, Bulpitt’s framework allows us to look at the attitudes and priorities made evident during the devolution deal negotiations; and to use these to suggest how metro-mayors might be able to extend and entrench their positions in the political landscape. It holds out the possibility that they could drive longer-term change in central-local relations: though this is very much contingent on the tacit permission of central government.

Acknowledgements

The article ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’ is based on the following research projects: The Political Studies Association’s Research Commission, chaired by Sarah Ayres (University of Bristol) to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The second, an ESRC project that focused on English regional governance in order to test the utility of different models of citizens assemblies vis-à-vis constitutional policy-making led by Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield). The third consists of a literature review and analysis conducted by Mark Sandford for the House of Commons Library.

 

image003Sarah Ayres is a Reader in Public Policy & Governance at Bristol University, and Co-editor Policy & Politics. Her research interest focus on the governance of place, space and territory.

 

 

 

MFlinders-new-smallMatthew Flinders is Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. He is also President of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom and a board member of the Academy of Social Sciences.

 

 

image002Mark Sandford is a Senior Research Analyst at the House of Commons Library specialising in local and regional government.

 

 

 

The stardom of tsardom – but are policy tsars actually useful?

Chris Game

I’d have bet money on at least one turning up in time for my recent round-up of the six Combined Authority mayors’ first 100 days.  We’re talking policy tsars, and I’d thought surely one CA mayor would see unveiling, say, a Homelessness or Youth Unemployment Tsar as an irresistible ‘First 100 Days’ publicity opportunity. I was wrong – but only just.

Here in the West Midlands, Mayor Andy Street had other, more inclusive, ideas. Like London, we’ll have a Mayor’s Task Force to tackle homelessness and the alarming rise in adult rough sleeping, chaired by Jean Templeton, CE of St Basils young people’s housing charity. And addressing youth unemployment will be a thousand-plus Mayor’s Mentors.

But, so far, no tsar – unlike Liverpool City Region, still without a Chief Executive, but who can now boast a Fairness Tsar. Moreover, with Mayor Steve Rotheram’s cabinet being even more overwhelmingly male than most, a ‘Fairness Tsar’ could hardly NOT be female, and indeed is: TUC Regional Secretary Lynn Collins. A good start, then, ticking the Mayor’s manifesto pledge “to put fairness and social justice centre stage”, though detailed objectives for Collins’ part-time role – as ‘critical friend’ and Chair of the Mayor’s Fairness and Social Justice Advisory Board – have still to be revealed.

Mayor Street also made a key appointment last week – a permanent, full-time, top-tier one. The WMCA’s Director of Strategy will be Julia Goldsworthy, whose varied career is in itself a useful introduction to the somewhat shadowy world of policy advice. A Liberal Democrat MP from 2005, she (narrowly) lost her Cornish seat in 2010. Whereupon she became a SPAD (Special Political Advisor) to Danny Alexander, Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the Coalition Government, following which she has been “devolution driver” at the professional services firm PwC.

Goldsworthy has thus moved from politician to being now a permanent regional/local civil servant, providing expert and politically impartial advice to policy makers – the Mayor and CA – as opposed to the politically partial advice expected of her as a temporary civil servant or SPAD.

Policy tsars offer a third channel of advice, different again, and ideally complementary. While a novelty at CA level, there have been far more nationally than certainly I imagined. Not that long ago, some academic colleagues, excited by a clearly exploitable new research topic, asked several of us how many we reckoned there’d been since New Labour – as you might guess, tsars’ chief progenitors – took office in 1997. Not one of us got to within a hundred of the actual figure, which at the time was approaching 300, including 46 appointed by Gordon Brown alone, as Chancellor and Prime Minister.

Our ignorance was obviously due largely to most of these tsars not being commonly known as such, even to their nearest and dearest. Indeed, the genuinely famous or those with serious clout have often preferred alternative titles: Joan Bakewell – insistent that she was not Older People’s Tsar, but the Voice of Older People; Keith Hellawell – Anti-drugs Co-ordinator; Maggie Atkinson and successors – Children’s Commissioner; Sir Michael Parkinson – Dignity (in Care) Ambassador; Sir Steve Redgrave – 2012 Sports Legacy Champion; Lord Digby Jones – Skills Envoy.

True, some do appear to relish the stardom of tsardom, like Dame Louise Casey, ‘Tsar for All Seasons’, who, as, inter alia, Homelessness Tsar, ASBO Tsar, Respect Tsar, Victims Commissioner, and Integration Tsar, has seemingly made a career of what for most are one-off, short-term, part-time appointments.

Personally, though, while accepting that the T-word’s four letters usefully fit media headlines, I find it meaningless and objectionable. To me, Tsars – whether the Slavic autocrats or the Caesars from whom the name derives – summon up images of seriously unpleasant macho males, who exercised their absolute powers pretty ruthlessly, and weren’t terribly concerned about issues like the needs of children and the elderly in an elective and supposedly accountable democracy.

But, however they introduce themselves, in media shorthand they’re all Tsars. More importantly, while their qualifications vary – some being specialists, some generalists, others advocates – in the public administration lexicon too they’re all the same. Not permanent, or temporary, civil servants; not SPADs; but individuals from outside government, publicly appointed by (until now) government ministers, to advise on policy development or delivery on the basis of their personal expertise.

So what’s not to like? In our exceptionally closed political system – where ministers, drawn only from Parliament, are heavily dependent on advice from a permanent and also narrowly recruited civil service – surely a bit more openness is good? Tsars are publicly appointed, and their popularity amongst ministers is seen in their increasing numbers – roughly a tripling by each government since 1997.

On the other hand, how much is the system opened up when, by 2012, 85% of all appointees had been males, 83% over 50, 98% ethnically white, 38% Lords, Baronesses, Knights or Dames, and 18% themselves politicians? In short, where’s the transparency and public accountability concerning all those publicly funded tsars that don’t fascinate the media: the openness and scrutiny of the ‘public’ appointments procedure, the evaluation of their work, its impact (if any), and their Value for Money?

Generally – albeit sometimes because it’s required to – local government tends to do pretty well all these things better than central government, so let’s hope CA tsars are no exception.

 

Chris Game - picChris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Spending beyond Your Means during a Recession? Not So Much for Local Governments Constrained by Fiscal Rules

Lang (Kate) Yang
The Great Recession, which started nearly a decade ago, may feel like a distant memory for some, as the United States economy is expanding for a ninth consecutive year. However, local governments in the nation still experience turmoil in their finances. National League of Cities’ 2016 City Fiscal Conditions report shows that city revenue has recovered to about 96 percent of precession (2006) levels. While many cities have improved service provision efficiency or cut back services and workforce during the recession, another option to weather the shock is to run a deficit and spend beyond the means. While structural or persistent fiscal imbalances are undesirable for local officials and can even lead to credit rating downgrades, deficit financing during recessionary periods may be justified for maintaining the necessary level of public service provision when regular tax and other revenue collection does not suffice.

Local governments achieve deficit spending through either borrowing or dipping into their reserves, if they have built one going in to a recession. Neither option is free. Borrowing from banks or investors on the municipal bond market requires interest payments, while leaving that reserve alone usually means investment returns. To what extent local governments are willing to take on a deficit during the recession depends on factors including local governing structure, managerial preference and expertise, level of savings, access to the debt market, and the capacity of paying back debt or replenishing reserves after the recession ends.

It is the last factor and its relationship with tax and expenditure limits that I explore in the recent paper published in Local Government Studies. Tax and expenditure limits are fiscal rules imposed on local governments by state governments (through legislations) and statewide voters (through referendums) to limit how much revenue localities can raise in any given year. For example, the famous Proposition 13 in California limits annual real estate tax on a parcel of property to one percent of its assessed value and the assessed value can only increase by a maximum of two percent per year. For cities constrained by a tax and expenditure limit, their capacity of paying back debt or replenishing reserves is predictably limited. The paper explores whether these cities were less likely to deficit spend during and after the Great Recession than unconstrained cities.

Data collected from the largest 50 cities’ comprehensive annual financial report show that cities subject to a tax and expenditure limit indeed were less likely to spend beyond their means. Their expenditure levels grew at a slower pace. As a result, their net assets, which are assets net of any payback liabilities, decreased at a slower pace as well. The difference between cities subject to tax and expenditure limits and unconstrained cities was especially pronounced immediately after the crisis (years 2011 and 2012), possibly because cities first pursued other means of weathering the shock than cutbacks and because the hit on city finance is delayed compared to the hit on the general economy.

Many cities saw their streetlights shut off, community centers shuttered, and bus services cancelled during the recession. While some may rather prefer the cuts than spending, others may see the value of maintaining a stable level of service provision despite decreased revenue collection. Although the paper refrains from evaluating whether deficit spending in general is beneficial to city governments and residents, it is ultimately a decision up to the localities. The paper finds that fiscal rules imposed by a higher-level government have an impact on city financial decisions. This finding indicates that deficit financing following a recession is no longer a “pure” local decision. Financial management conservatism caused by tax and expenditure limits might have contributed to more painful cuts in some cities than others.

 

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Lang (Kate) Yang is an assistant professor at George Washington University. Her research interest includes state and local government taxation, budgeting, and financial management. Her recent publications in Public Budgeting & Finance and National Tax Journal examine how local governments respond to fiscal rules imposed by higher-level governments.

All in A Day’s Work: Mental Health Provision, Wellbeing and Scrutiny in Brent Council

Cllr. Ketan Sheth

As Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee at Brent Council, Cllr. Sheth has a behind the scenes look at the workings of local government. Here he shares his experience in trying to improve Brent’s mental health provision and his views on what good local authority overview and scrutiny looks like. 

One in four people will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives – so it is likely all of us will directly or indirectly need support from the valuable services that support people to recover and to remain resilient.

Mental health – a once under-reported and some would say under-valued aspect of our health and wellbeing – has been making headlines recently and is a stated national priority. Earlier this year the Prime Minister announced plans to transform mental health services with a particular focus on children and young people. This was subsequently followed by an announcement last month by the Health Secretary of a plan to create 21,000 new posts, investing £1.3bn by 2020. Again, the commitment to mental health services for children and young people was affirmed.

This brings a welcome focus given children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing can ultimately shape their life chances and outcomes. So now we must think about how we – as a local authority overview and scrutiny committee – understand what is going on behind the headlines and – as elected councillors – continue to shine the spotlight locally.

Scrutiny work that adds a real value and makes a positive difference to local residents’ lives must remember a number of important factors: are elected councillors supported to carry out a meaningful review? Do they understand how to capture the service model? Do they understand how to draw out the challenges to effective delivery of that model? Do they have the tools and information they need to be responsive local decision makers?

In Brent, my Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee recently went behind those headlines to better understand mental health provision for children and young people across Brent and to see how we might add value to the current service model. A Task and Finish Group on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) was set up to review this complex area, and their report makes for very interesting read.

The task group was put in place to gather evidence – qualitative evidence from face-to-face interviews and research, and quantitative data and this was done alongside NHS Brent CCG, local health providers, schools and further education representatives and community representatives. I want to highlight two things my committee learnt in undertaking this work.

Firstly, the involvement of young people in this research was vital. Let’s face it, elected councillors in a local authority tend to be far older than the demographic we were seeking to reach, so it was incredibly helpful to have the input and perspectives of young people. We appointed a former member of Brent Youth Parliament (now a student at King’s College London) and they brought an excellent viewpoint to the task group’s work and deliberations.

Secondly, it was essential we recognised and embraced the complexity of this area. CAMHS is a complex and challenging subject for overview and scrutiny members because it cuts across local government and health responsibilities. Whilst this is excellent news for integrated care, it means you must be able to grasp and work across a range of people and organisations. You must also recognise the child or young person and their family and carers are a vital part of this system and network of care, and understand their perspective as well.

Effective scrutiny can be a powerful vehicle for change if committee members can stand back and really understand what is happening across local government and health services. If we are honest, overview and scrutiny committees nationally have varying relationships with public sector colleagues; however, in Brent, my committee’s relationship with NHS Brent CCG and wider health services is a good one. We try to be constructive and fair in forming our recommendations, especially in areas where we think things could be done differently and outcomes could be improved.

We have now made our recommendations to the Brent Council Cabinet and NHS colleagues and will monitor progress as a result. In Brent we will ensure mental health for adults and children and young people remains on the agenda, irrespective of the headlines.

To read the CAMHS task group report, visit http://www.brent.gov.uk/scrutiny.

 

 

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Cllr. Ketan Sheth is a Councillor for Tokyngton, Wembley in the London Borough of Brent. Ketan has been a councillor since 2010 and was appointed as Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee in May 2016. Before his current appointment in 2016, he was the Chair of Planning, of Standards, and of the Licensing Committees. Ketan is a lawyer by profession and sits on a number of public bodies, including as the Lead Governor of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

Combined Authority mayors – their first 100 days

Chris Game

My recent blog, endeavouring to mark our first six Combined Authority mayors’ 100 days in office by comparing their CAs’ corporate logos, was accompanied by a regret about not offering something more substantive. Prompted partly by the recent encouragement to prospective contributors to “accompany your blog, if possible, with a photo or image”, this is an attempt to do so.

The other, completely indispensable, prompt was the Local Government Chronicle team’s recent extensive assessment of the mayors’ first 100 days. For other purposes, I tabulated some of the LGC data, which enables more to be fitted into one blog than might otherwise be possible, and also explains the tables’ West Midlands upper case emphasis.

CAmayoralsalaries

The first table is compiled from Mark Smulian’s pay analysis, showing that, dividing the mayors’ annual salaries by the size of the population they serve, the “cheapest” mayor is West Midlands’ Andy Street – his £79,000 p.a. representing just under 3p per head. The calculation formula is obviously crucial. Street’s is far from the lowest salary, but it’s nearly a third lower than Andy Burnham’s in the slightly less populous Greater Manchester. And it remains lower (2.8p against 3.4p), even allowing for Burnham’s first public mayoral act being to launch a homelessness fund, pledge 15% of his own salary towards it, and encourage others to do likewise.

More conventional comparisons – based, say, on the CAs’ budgets – are difficult, since, beyond their Investment Fund and transport grants, we’ve little idea of what they’ll eventually be. So, for what it’s worth, by the same measure Sadiq Khan costs Londoners 1.7p p.a., and Birmingham City Council leader, John Clancy, costs me 6p. Which is only fractionally less than will WMCA chief executive, Birmingham-born, -raised and -university educated Deborah Cadman, both highly regarded and highly rewarded.

Before venturing further, it’s worth emphasising how arbitrary this 100 days business is. Good politics for the guy who coined the now gimmicky cliché: US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, already New York Governor, campaigning for about the most powerful executive office in the world on the measures required to deal with the Great Depression. But tough for, say, Tees Valley’s Ben Houchen – five opposition years as a Conservative Stockton-on-Tees councillor, and expecting, probably up to election day, to continue running his sporting goods business, rather than a CA comprising entirely Labour-run councils; or Tim Bowles, similarly a backbench councillor in South Gloucestershire, before heading a West of England CA with even less certainty about its identity than the West Midlands.

Moreover, personal experience aside, it’s simply unrealistic to expect in barely three months a substantial record of policy achievement – in a completely new office, with a skeletal organisation, in which personally the incumbents can’t, Trump-like, sign daily executive orders, or indeed actually DO a great deal. One thing, however, they can be expected to do is to staff that skeletal organisation by making top appointments. In the West of England and Liverpool City Region they haven’t, and in their differing ways both seem concerning.

CAMayors100daystable

In the West of England, it seems they’re simply slow to emerge from – or possibly even get into – what Mayor Bowles terms ‘start-up mode’. It’s easy – though here, as I’ll suggest, possibly misguided – to question the real-world value of some of the other measures in the table: the ministerial hobnobbing, press releases and suchlike. But to be eating the dust on everything – even the “notable mayoral achievements” were suggested by me! – and still apparently unclear on even your CA’s eventual organisational size, doesn’t look good, either to councillors or an already sceptical public, whom Bowles has already cost over 2p a head.

In the now six-borough Liverpool City Region – as opposed to the fomer five-borough Merseyside Met County Council, which is perhaps part of the issue – the problem seems more obvious. It’s dissent: personal, political and geographical. First, there’s the evidently ongoing power struggle between Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and metro mayor Steve Rotheram, dating back at least to the latter’s victory over the former in the battle for the metro candidacy. Then there’s the inter-borough stuff, with St Helens most openly but probably others too continuing to question the whole CA-based devolution exercise as “set up to help the cities. The councils who align with Liverpool can control things. The whole concept is flawed.”

The concept’s creator, George Osborne – and no doubt Mayors Rotheram and Burnham – would like Theresa May to revive his Northern Powerhouse project by announcing at either the Conservative Conference or in the Autumn Statement some version of HS3, linking Liverpool to Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and even Hull. But, with these cities having not one Conservative MP between them, it seems, for this PM, an unlikely priority.

And here those listed ministerial meetings surely do mean something – most obviously that “the ministerial access and contact with senior echelons of government that the mayors have been afforded is more than council leaders and chief executives would normally expect”. And while his defeated Labour opponent Siôn Simon may label Mayor Street as “Tory London’s man in the West Midlands”, in this case it was the Tory Minister who did the calling: Business Secretary Greg Clark, who, in person and in this very university, delivered the Government’s confirmation of a second devolution deal.

In doing so, moreover, Clark kickstarted a policy affecting potentially the whole of English local government that for the previous 12 months seemed almost completely to have stalled. For that reason alone, and with due acknowledgement of Andy Burnham’s adept handling of the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bomb attack, and the other mayors’ early achievements in this artificially short time span, Mayor Andy Street has to be the recipient of my Michael Fish award for just possibly prompting a change in the local government weather.

 

Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Unlocking research for local government

Jason Lowther

 

This post originally appeared on the Solace website. You can find it here

Local government needs evidence, from the apparently mundane but nonetheless critical (‘What choice of cladding will minimise the risk of fire spreading?’) to extraordinary insights (‘How do people choose what to eat and whether to be active?’, ‘What skills will today’s youngsters need in the jobs market of 2050?’)

In 2014, Solace commissioned an initial Local Government Knowledge Navigator (LGKN) report, From Analysis to Action: Connecting Research and Local Government in an Age of Austerity, which demonstrated that:

1. Councils have a wide range of evidence needs;
2. There is relevant research and expertise in academia but local government doesn’t make the most of this;
3. There are some impressive examples of collaboration between academia and local authorities but engagement is inconsistent, and often depends on existing links between individual researchers and local government officers or politicians; and
4. There is a need for a change of culture in both communities, and the development of more systematic approaches to achieving connectivity between them.

The key issues identified around local authorities’ approach to successful engagement were:

– senior appreciation of and support for research evidence;
– experience of using research and data to inform decision-making;
– consortia, to spread the cost and reduce risks to reputation;
– support from brokers with the expertise and time to develop proposals;
– the ability and skills to successfully commission research (or access to them); and
– local authority research teams and service managers establishing relationships with local universities.

Following the LGKN work, Solace continued working with the ESRC and LGA through the Research Facilitator, and has established dedicated spokespeople on evidence-based policy.  Recently, it supported the Centre for Public Scrutiny and Nesta in producing the document “Using evidence: A practice guide for local government scrutiny” which launched last month, and which aims to help local government make better use of research evidence.

Recent research has highlighted that local government has particular ways of looking at research that differ from much of academia (including the traditional approaches of public health colleagues).  Local government recognises the importance of ‘place’, and the uniqueness of each area’s situation and background.  As a result, we are particularly interested in evidence, including particular expertise, which relates directly to our place, and this can come across as only being interested in evidence that is ‘home grown’.

When Gemma Phillips and Judith Green recently looked at the transition of public health from the NHS to local government, they found that this different culture reflects local government’s more holistic view of health and wellbeing (rather than healthcare services), and our focus on practicality (rather than the provenance and methodological rigour of research studies).

Austerity has meant less government spending on research and evaluation, particularly at local level, although in 2015/16 national government still invested £5.6 billion in science and research, including £178m in ESRC alone.  So if we want research that government (including local government) will practically use, we probably have to get smarter in terms of more targeted funding, and in particular presenting local government as a key solution to the ‘Impact’ agenda which is vital to universities’ research funding.

This suggests to me that local government needs to take a much more active role in influencing the research agenda locally.  It’s not enough to rely on a kind of ‘Brownian Motion’ in the hope that academics’ research interests will in some way coincide with the policy priorities of local government.  We need to let academics know what our policy priorities are, and to listen to them as they explain what is already known in the relevant fields, and how further research might help us address these priorities.

In the West Midlands, as part of a comprehensive partnership with local universities, the Combined Authority this week set out a clear agenda for research related to its policy priorities for the next three years.  Developed from its Strategic Economic Plan, this includes both economic and social (public service reform) policy priorities, and further development of information sharing and the use of evaluation.  The WMCA ‘Policy Research Plan’ has been developed with input from policy leads and academic experts identified across the local universities and agencies, who will now take forward the agreed activities in a common programme.

So, for example, around ‘connected autonomous vehicles’ we are interested in exploring how emerging technologies can be exploited to improve transport accessibility and reduce subsidy costs whilst supporting enhanced network performance.  Around ‘vulnerable offender pathways’, we need to understand areas where regional working can add most value, together with the offence profile and pathways for specific groups, such as young person and women offenders.

Developing the Plan has compelled policy leads to be much more explicit about the questions they need answering to take forward the policy priorities, and has enabled academic experts to engage in developing these into research-able questions.  As this engagement continues, we expect further synergies to develop giving us much more robust and ‘actionable’ research in future.

References

Local Government Knowledge Navigator reports

http://www.solace.org.uk/knowledge/reports_guides/LGKN_Analysis_to_Action.pdf

http://www.solace.org.uk/knowledge/reports_guides/LGKN_LA_research_collaboration.pdf

Phillips, Gemma, and Judith Green. “Working for the public health: politics, localism and epistemologies of practice”, Sociology of health & illness 37.4 (2015): 491-505.

Using evidence: A practice guide for local government scrutiny

WMCA Policy Research Plan

https://governance.wmca.org.uk/documents/s287/Appendix.pdf

 

lowther-jasonJason Lowther is a senior fellow at INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther