Levelling Up is a clarion call for better collaboration across public services
Updated: Mar 16
Luke Bevir argues that tackling the causes of inequality at a regional and local level can only happen if there is effective collaboration between central government, councils, the NHS and civil society.
Amid the noise surrounding the announcement of Round 2 of the government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF), Michael Gove emphasised the point that the LUF is designed to complement many other policies and additional spending outlined in last year’s White Paper. The fund is to be ‘a small fraction’ of the government’s overall spend on Levelling Up, he said.
It is true that for ‘levelling up’ to be successful, it needs more than the LUF alone. The causes of inequalities at a regional and local level are complex and interconnected. Addressing them effectively requires buy-in and focus across different government departments at a national level and local authorities, NHS trusts and civil society networks at a local level.
But is this happening? And what more needs to be done?
There are some positive signs of collaboration in our public services but there is still a long way to go.
The emergence of regional local government structures under devolution deals, alongside the establishment of Integrated Care Boards at system level and Integrated Care Partnerships in local areas gives new opportunities. As these structures get up and running their impact should start to be seen in area-wide strategies and joint decision-making.
At local level, the picture is mixed. To take one example, reports suggest that one third of swimming pools are at risk of closure due to high energy bills – as leisure centres don’t meet the current criteria for the UK government’s energy support scheme. This is a concern at a time when public health and access to affordable exercise facilities is in the spotlight following Covid-19, and the aim of reducing health inequalities is a stated priority of Levelling Up. What we see is the reality of decision-making impacting service provision in a way that works against stated government strategy.
As budgets continue to be tight, spending on ‘people’ and ‘place’ should be connected to ensure that every taxpayer pound spent supports both the local economy and local communities who hope to participate in it.
But to do this effectively across complex systems that involve multiple public service providers of different size and influence will always be a difficult task. It requires an ability to bring people together under a shared vision, with new ways of working, and appropriate governance structures.
At Mutual Ventures we have seen the importance of local collaboration across ‘people’ and ‘place’ in our experience working with councils and their partners to develop place-based strategies to regenerate town centres, the development of provider collaboratives across healthcare to improve patient outcomes, and Regional Adoption Agencies to improve access to residential care for vulnerable children. In all these example, effective collaboration requires the willingness to not only think creatively, but to build relationships and to align strategy with the detail of how organisations and teams function.
Levelling Up cannot be left to individual organisations. Tackling the causes of inequality will only happen if there is genuine and effective collaboration between public services. On this fact, we cannot afford to err. What this means is that all public service leaders should see Levelling Up as a clarion call to work harder to do things together.
Read more about Mutual Venture’s work on developing place-based strategies here.
To hear more about our work contact Luke Bevir email@example.com.