Hello PPMA members and friends

Mark Hawthorne, Leader at Gloucestershire County Council is our guest blogger this week and he urges central government to tap into the ‘energy and enthusiasm’ of local government if devolution proposals are to succeed.

Devolution is one of those words that we in local government have a habit of latching onto as the game changing concept that is going to revolutionise the world as we know it. Like the latest fashion fad, it’s the must have of the season – only like all fashion fads, there’s an eerie sense we’ve been here before.

And that’s my problem with the current devolution narrative, the sense of revolutionary fervour, the desire to tear everything up and build anew, sort of misses the point that we’ve arrived here not because of some innovative new thinking from central Government but the fact that local government itself has evolved so much over the last five years.

It wasn’t that long ago that Total Place was the buzz word of the moment, or when everyone was talking about becoming ‘commissioning’ councils. The fact is that local government is not the stale, never changing, beast that so many in Whitehall think it is. It’s instead a constantly evolving ecosystem, ever-changing to meet the new demands it’s facing, against a backdrop of ever tighter public finances.

And it’s through that backdrop I project myself forward over the next 12 months. Local government needs to go back to its core argument, that we are best placed to deliver real change, based on services built around individuals and communities – not governmental silos and institutions.

From our vantage point we can see where the system fails to mesh together, and through numerous pilots like Total Place and Troubled Families we have proven how better outcomes can be achieved. We have evolved to be more than just civic leaders, and have emerged as leaders of whole place.

Indeed if you look at the devolution documents being put forward by councils up and down the country, what you see are common themes around education and skills, health and social care, economy and growth. These are not coincidences; they are a result of councils who know what change is required to improve outcomes for their residents – and know what local solutions are needed to deliver that lasting change.

And yet a cursory glance at the devolution deals announced at the last Budget would show a cut and paste affair which suggests that participants ordered their devo deals on the treasury equivalent of a McDonald’s Menu screen – and not through a process of genuine discussion on what’s best for their place.

What’s missing from these is the energy and enthusiasm that emerged across local government when the devolution debate started. That sense of councils taking the next evolutionary steps on their journey to deliver better outcomes for their residents. The desire to work together with other public sector partners, both local and national, to take on the big challenges facing the public sector today.

And so as I look forward to the next 12 months, my hope is that local government rediscovers its evolutionary voice and that instead of pursuing the mantra of ‘what can national government do for us’, instead return to its core strength of ‘what can we do together to improve our communities’.

Mark Hawthorne

Leader, Gloucestershire County Council