Levelling Up: how local government is tackling the biggest challenges
Earlier this year, the Government launched its Levelling Up whitepaper with the ambition to end regional inequalities between the most prosperous and deprived areas in the country. But what are the biggest challenges facing local authorities in the implementation of this agenda?
We brought together a panel of regional government experts to identify the key challenges that will need to be overcome to successfully level up delivery.
Devolution and funding challenges
West Yorkshire Combined Authority is tackling inequality through a focus on inclusive growth. Melanie Corcoran, Director of Delivery at the local authority, said that large disparities between socioeconomic groups still exist in the region: a boy born in one of the most deprived areas of Leeds is likely to live 11 years less than his counterparts in more affluent areas. In the case of girls, the difference is 9 years.
“We’re working with health organisations to look at how we can tackle social inclusion and get behind some of those figures and start to put some of the investment in those communities that need it most,” Corcoran told delegates at the LocalGov Transformation Show.
Her team is working on initiatives around education attainment, skills and lower productivity to address this issue. However, Corcoran said that this will need deeper devolution and closer collaboration between mayors, council leaders and local partners to set clear objectives and understand where investment should go to ensure a successful delivery and levelling up.
“We need much more flexibility in terms of how we can use some of these programmes to deliver what we want to deliver locally,” Corcoran said. “At the moment, the funding comes by programme, and you report it back by programme. We should be looking at places and different themes.”
West Yorkshire Combined Authority recently received its five-year transport settlement funding, which Corcoran said was “really welcomed”, but an issue with this kind of short-term cash is that it comes with “many strings attached” that challenge its implementation.
“When the offer letter came through, there were nine pages of conditions attached to it,” she continued. “That doesn’t feel like devolution. We need to be making these decisions locally about what we want to spend that investment on, and what the benefits are that we want to see locally.”
Ending siloed approaches
Panellists agreed that greater devolution will empower cities and smaller regions to make more joined-up decisions. With greater devolution will come greater local control over resources that will unlock opportunities for regional communities.
However, siloed activities and ring-fenced budgets remain blockers for delivery, added Chris Hornung, Managing Director at field service management software company Totalmobile.
“If we could deliver a service across health and social care, bringing that together, that would provide a far better view of data that gives you better care in the community, better care across that area,” Hornung said.
Knitting together funding streams that come from central government was also a priority for John Wrathmell, Director for Strategy, Research and Economy, at Greater Manchester Combined Authority. But funding challenges are not the only issue standing in the way of the successful delivery of the levelling up agenda.
The complex nature of local government means that different authorities have different powers, and remits differ across geographies. More collaboration between stakeholders is also needed.
Wrathmell added: “At a local level, the challenge is about joining up between different parts of local government with different partners. Within a combined authority, a lot of the powers and resources sit with the individual local authorities, but at the same time you have mayors who set targets and ambitions.
“Knitting together that part of how local government works can be a real challenge. How do you bring local partners together in a way that everybody brings their strengths to the agenda and you don’t end up with different parts of the system clashing?”
Joined up approaches
Another challenge for Levelling Up delivery identified by Hornung is the vertical alignment found within local authorities. Leaders must be able to think about the broader capabilities across the whole authority, and break down silos to open opportunities for delivery.
“I think the key for us in local government is having somebody with that transformation-focused role during the delivery, thinking about ways to knit all of that together,” Hornung told panellists.
In his view, this leadership role would be able to provide solutions that work across different functions that are more cost-effective than the current number scattered across different verticals. Breaking down those silos would allow them to deliver more services with the same budget and enable staff “to work smarter” when they are out in the community.
“Yes, there's going to be some extra funding,” he continued. “But in the end, if we're going to drive this levelling up agenda, we've got to deliver an enhanced service into those parts of the country that have been left behind. There’s a need for a step change in what we are doing.”
'Levelling Up: Creating Places that Work' panel discussion, sponsored by Totalmobile, is available to watch on demand here.