Core Activities: notes from the Core Cities Summit, February 2015

On the 11th February over 300 people from across the public sector met for the Core Cities Summit in Glasgow. This post summarises the point reached so far and some of the conference’s live issues, and suggests three areas for further consideration: how to involve MPs and MSPs more fully, engaging communities in the debate and considering what kind of country the UK should become.

Core Cities at the forefront of innovation

The Core Cities buzz continued in Glasgow on 11th February at its well attended summit which launched the next stages in cities-based devolution discussions. The Core Cities’ approach to innovation through collaboration has challenged the government by setting the pace. It was a cross-border event which included a look at how the next round of devolution proposals will affect Glasgow, as an indication of the next stages of the development of the Core Cities campaign.

The event pages are online and the Twitter hashtag #devosummit is searchable for reactions. The summit launched both the Core Cities charter for devolution ‘A Modern Charter for Local Freedom’ and the Respublica report Restoring Britain’s City States.

A charter for devolution and recommendations for action

The Charter sets itself in the context of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the waves of change emanating from the 2014 Scottish Referendum vote. It calls for action to consider what a ‘modern, mature state for the UK’ would look like, one which enables prosperity, equality and democracy. It sees itself as being applicable to the whole of the UK and not just to the Core Cities.

Devolution to local places is at the heart of its proposals with local freedom to make strategic decisions, to tax and invest, and to determine the shape of strategic planning and service delivery at the sub-regional level. To enable this, it calls on the Government to establish an independent body to facilitate devolution and oversee change, while ensuring that communities are strengthened, key investments are made, services are transformed and decision making devolved further to the appropriate level in communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.

Respublica’s report, Restoring City States, focuses on city devolution. It seeks to build on the recent city deals with Manchester and the Sheffield City Region in order to forge a ‘rebalancing of the relationship between central government and cities. Many of the issues set out in the Charter for Devolution are explored in more depth and underpin the report’s eight recommendations.

Core Cities’ case for change

Opening the Summit, Cllr Sir Richard Leese stressed that the summit was about a constitutional settlement, not just the devolution of powers. Ben Page highlighted the fact that whilst people are dubious about whether devolution is of relevance, they are concerned about inequality and there is potentially the space to try something new and to engage them in debate, as shown in the Scottish Referendum. In the Scottish context, Jim Murphy MP sought greater devolution by the Scottish Government to its cities. However Keith Brown MSP wondered whether local government could make more of its existing powers and was uncertain whether legislative change was really needed to achieve the Core Cities’ aims, a rehearsal of some of the debate nationally.

Considering reform to powers and fiscal matters, Danny Alexander MP wanted to see the government look at the devolution of stamp duty, amongst other measures, with a clear fiscal base to municipal re-empowerment. Philip Blond, Respublica, considered that the post 1945 model of the state was no longer fit for purpose and sought a new model to deal with a much more complex public service challenge. He considered that there might need to be some intervention in some ‘trailing’ cities to jump-start change, but considered cities to be the only agents nationally capable of bringing equality in an age of globalisation. Cllr Nick Forbes called for the next Comprehensive Spending Review to be based on place, rather than the individual spending limits of departments.

On the future form of devolution, Cllr Nick Forbes also stressed the need for cities not to be ‘walled cities’ but ones open to their surrounding partners, rooted in their local hinterland, pulling together to develop infrastructure, and linked into ideas about social justice. Pat Ritchie highlighted the need for devolution to be capable of adaptation to the different needs of different places. And Mayor Jules Pipe, speaking for London Councils, highlighted a need for devolution thinking to extend nationally, with further change needed in London, for example, to meet the extent of empowerment sought by the Core Cities.

Gaps and challenges

The focus of the day focused more on the growth agenda that it was on the social development of cities, although they are of course entwined, there were also some interesting gaps and unresolved issues.

The first gap relates to national politicians, the devolution debate has made much of devolving from government to city or place, but little has been said about the role of MPs (or MSPs). All of the cities involved in the discussion have numerous national representatives who are currently not part of the picture. There was talk on the day about the development of local Public Accounts Committees but as yet no sign of the development of a shadow version to see if it might work and help to hold a core city to account.

The second gap points out there has been little discussion of the quality of community in cities and aspirations for their development. Perhaps understandably much of the discussion has been aimed at central government, but the relationship of local people to each other and to the local state needs to be as much a part of the desired debate about the modern form of the state as a whole as any of the issues highlighted at the summit.

The third gap relates to the fundamental question of the kind of state the UK wants to be in the future (and here it is worth pointing out that this has been almost solely a local government led debate which of necessity does not yet include key local players in national services such as the NHS). This is a debate which perhaps should be at the core of the general election campaign, but is currently not on the agenda.

Next steps for everyone?

In its submission to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s consultation on the constitution, INLOGOV said (amongst other things):

English devolution to a system based around London and the core cities would carry considerable risks if it becomes an exercise which bolts-on powers without thinking through the systemic change that is needed. We need to resolve the question of responsibilities, of citizens, communities, cities and regions, before the reallocation of powers.

… The UK’s greatest potential is contained in its networked nature, and the same can be said of the best cities and counties. What is needed is therefore constitution which does not just chunk up centralised power and devolve it.

… There should be a clear agreement about how power is shared (rather than devolved) between different legitimate and competent parts of the UK state, including local, regional and national governments.

So the current debate is a necessary one about devolution, but perhaps needs to develop into one about power sharing. To return to the Magna Carta theme, the Barons sought limitations to the exercise of central power and a clear basis for sharing it. They also did not rely solely on rational argument but potentially had the means to force King John to comply with their demands. It will be interesting to see how the Core Cities muster their forces and deploy them during the coming election and beyond.

As Sir Richard Leese recognised, the number of places that can be considered as core cities is necessarily limited. However it is clear that the approach that Core Cities have set out is one which has its application across England especially and the UK as a whole. All can benefit from the learning about ‘what works’ in creative, collective approaches to change and the development of confident, positive narratives about places and their people. And INLOGOV is uniquely placed to offer support by sharing learning and exploring approaches which challenge barriers of stagnation, short-sightedness, parochialism or old rivalries, all of which get in the way of what is important: long-term development based on outward-looking collaboration.

Know your local Councillor Photographs - St Albans - May 2008

Daniel Goodwin is an Associate Fellow of INLOGOV. He was previously Executive Director of Finance & Policy at the Local Government Association and Chief Executive of St Albans City & District Council.

The LGC100: what it does and doesn’t measure

Chris Game

I used, years ago, to have a whole Pol Sci 1 lecture about power and influence, their similarities and differences. By one of life’s synchronicities, I’ve been reminded of it twice in the past week. Don’t go – I’m not about to disinter it, although I will share the six-word summary that I could, if really pushed, get it down to: Power’s a tool, Influence a skill.

Actually, I will elaborate a bit, at least to the 16-word précis: I is a form of P, but P can be exercised through means other than I. Power, in other words, trumps influence, as was demonstrated in Wednesday evening’s feverish purchasing of high-price London homes following George Osborne’s introduction of stamp duty bands.

To adapt my lecture illustration: estate agents spent possibly months trying to influence wavering purchasers’ views of the great bargain their £2 million Myleene Klass garage/apartment would represent; then along comes George and suddenly the hesitants are desperate to exchange contracts by midnight and save themselves (I think) £55,000. The Chancellor had the power to change the whole deal – as could the garage owners, had they decided to drop their price. The estate agent – yes, I can feel your pity – has, at most, influence.

Power is supposedly sexy – period, and certainly sexier than influence, which is why magazines with circulation-boosting ‘Top 100’ lists will generally try for ‘Most Powerful’, even if they have to resort to sophistry. Forbes, the US business magazine, does both the World’s Most Powerful People: Putin, Obama, Xi Jinping, Pope Francis, Angela Merkel; and Most Powerful Women: Merkel, Janet Yellen (Chair, Federal Reserve), Melinda Gates, Dilma Rousseff (President, Brazil).

I’ve no argument with any of these. The Putin vs. Obama thing’s interesting, but, if you annexe Crimea and do a $70 billion gas pipeline deal with China – well, for me that’s right up there with banded stamp duty. But then at 17 in the Women’s list there’s Beyoncé Knowles, personification of the power vs. influence problem.

Sure, have her No.1 in Forbes’ Celebrity 100 List. I’d even grudgingly accept her heading Time magazine’s 100 Most Influentials, or, to be accurate, being their Top Titan – Time fudging its listing by grouping its 100 into Titans, Pioneers, Artists, Leaders and Icons, presumably to avoid, say, Miley Cyrus embarrassingly outranking Pope Francis.

But, whatever Titans are/do, Beyoncé sings, and, even if she does release her songs exclusively on iTunes, that’s essentially popularity, not power. It’s the same with cats. The cat food Friskies’ Most Influential Cat on the Internet – ‘Grumpy Cat’ (aka Tardar Sauce, and apparently it’s feline dwarfism, not perpetual pet petulance) – has 250,000 followers, which is also popularity and could even be influence, but it ain’t power.

Which brings us to the LGC100, the Local Government Chronicle’s periodic listing and ranking of the most influential people in local government – and in which we at INLOGOV have the pleasant responsibility to declare an interest, in all senses.

The LGC100 obviously differs from the Friskies 50 index, but there are similarities. First big difference is the complete absence of cats from even the long list. Second, selection is by a nine-judge panel, with “vast experience across the sector” – apart, apparently, from that of being elected members. Third, it’s forward-looking: those most likely to exert influence over the sector in the next 12 months.

Yes, the big similarity with the Friskies 50 is that it’s very definitely about influence, in the sense that I’ve been trying to suggest, rather than power. Out of hopefully excusable exuberance, INLOGOV’s official announcement stated that our Director, Catherine Staite, had been ranked the 45th “most powerful” person in the world of local government, which wasn’t the actual citation and, given that world’s diverse and highly political character, risked being potentially misleading – prompting this intendedly explanatory blog.

As I see it, LGC could have taken the sophists’ soft option, have pretended theirs is a Power Index, but, like Time, with separate groupings for mayors and council leaders, chief execs, national politicians, civil servants and officials, consultants, commentators, etc. Which would have risked being little more interesting than the proverbial wet weekend in Wigan – which, I’d better emphasise, isn’t boring at all, and moreover has a still comparatively rare female CE in Donna Hall (No 55).

Instead, they’ve taken the braver and inevitably more provocative path of having a single sector-wide set of reputational rankings, and it behoves us to recognise that those rankings are assessments of likely future influence, and not of current or recent power.

If they were current power rankings, then, whatever we might think of him, Eric Pickles’ dramatic slide from 1 in 2011 to 15 would take some explaining – although it does remain noteworthy for at least two reasons. First, all previous listings have been headed by the senior local government minister: John Healey in 2007 and 2008, and Pickles in 2011. This time, the only minister in the top 10 is Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, at 7 [The PM and Chancellor are excluded from consideration, as is the Leader of the Opposition].

Second, Alexander’s relatively high position suggests Pickles’ fall can’t be attributed entirely to next May’s election, as he’s also adrift of Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (11), and Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (13), who may also have lost their ministerial red boxes before the year’s half through. A comparable consideration – imminent retirement – surely does, however, largely explain DCLG Permanent Secretary Sir Bob Kerslake’s apparently lowly 85. Incidentally, the actual local government minister, Kris Hopkins, may or may not be grateful that LGC have extended their list from 50 to 100, as his perceived future influence has him down at 93 – just below Watford elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill (92), and just ahead of Nan Sloane, Director of The Centre for Women and Democracy (95).

I’ve now mentioned four ranked women and six men, and it would be good if that 40% female representation or the 40% in the top 10 were reflections of the list overall. They aren’t. There are 11 women in the top 50 and 21 in the full 100, which proportionately is lower than in either 2011 or 2008 – and, yes, I do know Doncaster’s CE, Jo Miller (27), and Centre for Cities’ Alex Jones (83) are women, while Localis’ Alex Thomson (54) is definitely male.

If those figures are disappointing, those for ethnic diversity are worse. An important new survey was published in September into the diversity of staff working in the top 5,000 leadership roles within the public and voluntary sectors. Conducted by a team headed by Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, the Green Park Public Service Leadership 5,000 survey found that ethnic diversity in local authority leadership is so low that it “almost defies analysis” – and that was before Lambeth CE Derrick Anderson announced his impending departure. Though obviously not itself a statistical exercise, the LGC100 reinforces that sad conclusion.

Important as that conclusion is, though, it would be wrong for this particular blog to end on anything but a more upbeat note. First, there’s the overall picture, with local government people not only heading the list – the Manchester City Council duo of Leader, Sir Richard Leese, and CE Sir Howard Bernstein – but comfortably outnumbering, as they jolly well should, national politicians and officials by 46 to 33. And, if you forget the messy election business and count members of the Upper House as politicians – Lords Adonis (26) and Shipley (69) – then they just pip officials by 40 to 39. No amount of fiddling, though, will prevent the biggest single group in the top 20 being, by a distance, national politicians.

Finally and closer to home, INLOGOV Director Catherine Staite’s 45th position is, by any standards, a proud achievement – for her and collectively for those academic and other Institute colleagues with whom she works (I can say that, being nowadays extremely semi-detached and, at least in that sense, no longer among that number). It doesn’t mean LGC panellists have judged her more powerful or important than, say, Birmingham City Council Leader, Sir Albert Bore (50), or London Mayor, Boris Johnson (57), or even former INLOGOV Director, Sir Michael Lyons (70), author of the recent Labour-commissioned Lyons Housing Review of the underlying causes of the housing crisis.

It does, on the other hand, seem to suggest that those panellists see INLOGOV as already, and perhaps increasingly, prominent in the local government world, and – particularly through collaborative work with other public sector and international organisations – like the recent 2020 Vision report with Grant Thornton, Exploring finance and policy futures for English local government – – an increasingly influential player.

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.

Standards Codes: A Case of Motherhood and Apple Pie

Philip Whiteman

Whilst giving a lecture to a group of councillors at a summer school last year, I explained how the Localism Bill could result in some authorities abandoning their codes of conduct for reasons of despair with the standards regime.  The response from councillors was enthusiastic and comments included ‘expensive, time consuming and irrelevant’.  Some predictably expressed the view that the ultimate judgement of what constituted poor behaviour would be subject to the ballot box.

Walk on stage, Baron Bichard of Nailsworth who took a very different view when introducing an amendment to the Bill in order to save the code.

“At a time when the public’s trust in politicians is at a low ebb, it is important that all public bodies have explicit standards of conduct, which make transparent how they will carry out their business and provide benchmarks against which they can be held to account.”

Bichard’s intervention and proposal was timely albeit rather late during the Bill’s progress through Parliament.  Without his amendment, local government would have made a backward step of forty years.  Quite why the government objected to the code is unclear but they clearly had a very short memory span.   The code was introduced following the Poulson corruption scandal of the early 1970s and eventually became a statutory requirement. It is true that the code did not rule out further scandals whether they be Donnygate, Shirley Porter orWalsall, but it has given existing councillors a handle on what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour – a situation further reinforced through the standards regime and most recently, the inclusion of the Nolan Principles into statute.

The Act is quite original in that it is probably the first piece of legislation that lists the Nolan principles, which must be adopted by each authority. However, the rest of the code has to be determined by each authority in the spirit of localism.  This is particularly problematic for authorities not willing to ever make a decision without receiving central government guidance, many of whom will have been waiting for some months by now.

So, from stage left and four months after the Act becoming statute, welcome the Local Government Association and Department for Communities and Local Government along with their new illustrative codes of conduct. Both of their anticipated documents arrived during April and within a week of each other.  This may be coincidental but it did rather resemble a rather unsightly race of one-upmanship or desperation between the two institutions.

Unfortunately, neither code is likely to generate much excitement and seem to be rather ‘motherhood and apple pie’ and lacking in substance – probably a result of disagreement and a rush to publish.

When comparing both documents, one could easily question whether the institutions are addressing the same legislation.  Just taking three examples:

  • CLG’s illustrative code fails to list the Nolan principles (remember that was a requirement under the Act).
  • The LGA acknowledges that others should be treated with respect but the CLG code does not.
  • CLG incorporates narrative on the new Disclosable Pecuniary Interest – but this totally ignored within by the LGA

And the list could go on.

Monitoring Officers and their councillors have gained a tremendous experience over the past few years from the work in developing standards codes.  They will know what works and what does not.  True, existing codes will need to change and reflect the legislative requirements but my recommendation is that they reconsider the own existing codes rather than unquestioningly adopt the vagaries of either the CLG or LGA models.

Returning to my discussion with the group of councillors and their opposition to codes of conduct.   When challenged on how they would determine a breach of standards and how they would tackle an errant councillor, there was quick realisation that a code of conduct provides an essential framework for assessing poor standards and breaches of acceptable behaviour.  Unfortunately, I think those councillors will be sorely disappointed with the LGA or CLG examples.

Philip Whiteman is a Lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the impact of central government and regulators on the role, service delivery and performance of local government and other local bodies.  He is currently looking at developing a case for researching how guidance is an important instrument for steering local government over and above legislative instruments.  He is also Editor of the journal Local Government Studies.