Dan Silver welcomes news of more City Deals for the north – provided they bring innovative systems for genuinely democratic decision-making
A new wave of so-called ‘City Deals’ has just been announced by the Government in which 20 cities and their wider areas will be given the opportunity to bid for radical new powers to boost local growth.
This involves the Government devolving powers in exchange for responsibility for delivering growth locally and includes the ability to ‘earn back’ tax from the Treasury as well as devolved transport budgets and control of the skills budget for each city.
This new wave includes several cities in the north of England: Hull and the Humber; Preston and Lancashire; Sunderland; and the Tees Valley – adding to existing City Deals in Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield and the first of them all in Greater Manchester which set the benchmark for those announced today.
A key theme of City Deals is the need to have economic growth. Whilst this remains a driver for national and local government, solely concentrating on economic outputs severely limits potential to invest in communities and effectively tackle some of the long-term and structural inequalities that people face. For instance, such an approach can potentially exclude areas that form a critical portion of the non-market economy.
There must be a balance between the two. Successive investment and regeneration have changed the physical structures of place, yet entrenched social policy problems remain for some sections of the communities that live there. In order to address this, we need to involve all those that live in communities to best support the potential capabilities in a way that can drive social regeneration within some of our most consistently deprived communities.
The Social Action & Research Foundation, a new think-tank based in Salford which co-produces policies to eradicate poverty (of which I am a co-Director alongside Amina Lone), proposes the idea of Hot-Housing Public Policy; this is a new way of evidencing, shaping and delivering public policy that draws upon the range of expertise and knowledge of those that live and work in communities. In turn this will lead to more co-produced public services, which are effective and efficient and that deepen democratic accountability.
The City Deals provide a unique opportunity to be able to deliver this, but it requires some creative thinking. Successful innovation in one area will not be directly transferable to others, and will require local reinterpretation. Therefore, the City Deals should put in place commissioning and performance frameworks that enable local innovation to flourish, whilst maintaining the necessary monitoring that is required in order to assess effectiveness.
It is important to provide the necessary space whereby policy ideas can be nurtured within the local communities that they are rooted. In order to achieve this, City Deals could provide a skeleton framework as well as a support function that will allow the strategic and coordinated measures that are necessary. Alongside this, it is important to ensure adequate safety mechanisms and a level of quality assurance and standards across the board. However within this framework, communities must be given greater voice within local decision-making processes to be able to implement interventions and deliver co-produced services at a local level that are more in tune to local needs.
A coordinated approach will then be necessary to propagate the more successful innovations by supporting their replication to each locality, while allowing for a flexibility that can meet the specific needs and challenges of the area. This allows a basic framework with a universal policy approach to provide equitable delivery of services, whilst ensuring the flexibility for each co-produced project to be cross-fertilised with local expertise.
The development of innovations in public policy and its implementation in each City Deal area will then grow organically. This builds upon the successful and creative interventions that have already occurred, whilst providing more space, ownership and empowerment for such innovations to flourish, while providing the necessary frameworks to ensure the needs of all our diverse guarantees are met. Through such an approach, City Deals can help to contribute to increased localism within our communities in a way that creates efficient, effective and equitable public services.