Levelling Up Locally Inquiry: Leadership

The aim of the session was to explore the role of local leadership in binding communities and anchor institutions together to strengthen resilience, align national priorities, and articulate policy interventions necessary to support balanced economic growth and reduce inequality.

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This roundtable was attended by representatives from a range of organisations including the Institute of Directors, Wates Group, Hertsmere Borough Council, St Oswald’s Hospice, University of Manchester, Friends Provident Foundation, Torfaen County Borough Council, Reform, University of Cambridge, Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Nottingham City Council, Maslaha, Lewes District Council, British Youth Council, WLGA, IPPR North, Vale of White Horse District Council, COSLA and Essex County Council.

It opened with a presentation from Professor Joy Warmington, Chief Executive Officer at Brap who discussed the ways in which leadership approaches can deliver transformational change in tackling systemic inequality to deliver on the levelling up agenda. She discussed the attitudes and behaviours leaders need including reflecting on local data and identifying evidence gaps, relating purpose and goals to the diverse communities served, and a recognition of the lens they are seeing the world through so as not to shape communities in their own image. There was an exploration of the way in which leaders use evidence. Often evidence is ignored due to a need for urgency to address symptoms rather than causes so future evaluation approaches should be longer lasting and monitor agency, attitudes and behaviour rather than just outputs. Joy concluded saying leaders need to be aware of biases held, understand how systems of discrimination operate and have knowledge of who they are as a leader.

This was followed by a talk from Nick Gardham, Chief Executive Officer at Community Organisers who explored the transformational impact listening can have upon communities and the distribution of power within society. Nick spoke of the uneven distribution of power in society whereby power is ‘done’ to people giving them limited ability to be part of decisions that affect them. Often there is power in the collective whereby the act of coming together can better help people create change. There is also huge value in listening so decision makers can build an understanding of what life is like for people in their communities. Nick mentioned the strategy for space and relationships in the Levelling Up White Paper could better be described as a strategy for listening and building relational power.

The third speaker was Patricia Wharton, community advocate working in Brent. Patricia discussed how we can strengthen the talent pipeline so there is a continuation of people who have the skills and are representative of their communities to fill positions of leadership and provided examples of what good local leadership looks like. She spoke about the challenges facing communities and how they hinder people taking positions of leadership, followed by practical steps required to overcome them. These include better funding opportunities for grass roots communities; improved collaboration and transparency with different community groups; support for asset-poor communities; and a shift in who is represented when key decisions are being made. Patricia finished sharing several case studies of what good leadership looks like in her local area of Brent.

The session concluded with a wider discussion among attendees which touched upon leadership models, economic considerations, inclusion in decision making, and the importance of working with stakeholders and across sectors. Attendees explored the question of whether increasing power is an incentive or disincentive to participation and the way in which complexities of everyday life do not get captured by current leadership models. Funding streams and grants should be simplified to be more accessible and the question of what economic equipment is required for people to meaningfully participate in society was explored. Attendees thought young people are an underused resource. Finally, leaders should rethink the way policy is drafted and at what stage people are engaged, decisions shouldn’t be parachuted into communities and there needs to be greater acknowledgement that people of different ethnic backgrounds face discrimination and racism which is omitted from the White Paper.

The next roundtable in the ‘Levelling up Locally Inquiry’ explores the theme of productivity and prosperity.