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Local Government has become innovative and sexy in Yorkshire

20 Nov

Local Govenment Yorkshire and Humber held their annual innovation awards in Wakefield last week, where compere Danni Hewson a BBC North presenter said, “local government had become ‘sexy'”. As a judge of the innovation awards for four years I know the quality of the LGYH ‘Making A Difference’ applications has improved dramatically, the competition is great with each council submitting proposals for outstanding achievements in community cohesion, improving localities and partnership.

Wakefield did particularly well this year but so did Rotherham and some district councils which is not easy for them when competing with so many cities.  Rotherham won joint first prize for  their response to the economic downturn for the most innovative town centre, recently praised by Mary Portas, with Kirklees for their ‘recession board’ .  Sheffield won for outstanding locality transport improvement and Craven DC for innovative partnership working which has generated 85 social housing units in Greenroyd Mill. Wakefield were rewarded with prizes for the Hepworth Gallery’ and Councillor of the Year’. Bradford’s Magic Project, a partnership between the Police, Fire and Rescue and the local authority is combatting extremism, violent crime and dangerous driving through emotional therapies- won the award for strong and harmonious communities.

Local Government Yorkshire and Humber (LGYH) ensured that these awards open to all services and smaller district councils. South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue were rewarded for their exceptional peer mentoring  and the Public Servant of Year Steph Brown is making a huge difference to young people in North Lincs where she herself had been a ‘looked after child’.

LGYH is recognised by local leaders and chief executives in the region to be the agency that has stimulated and sustained collaborative leadership across the region, a fact mentioned at the Awards by the new LGYH Chair Cllr Peter Box (Wakefield ldr) and Cllr R0ger Stone (Rotherham ldr) former LGYH Chair and the Cllr Tom Fox ( Scarborough ldr).  Carole Hassan LGYH chief executive, a champion of place-based innovation presented awards to the chief executives in the region who had most contributed to regional collaboration.

However, in spite of their success, there was a sense in the room that this could be the last LGYH Innovation Awards event  -like all intermediary bodies LGYH is being significantly downsized and by April 2112 will be much smaller and less likely to have the capacity to play a strategic innovation role in the region. This is a shame because as the quality of the awards show – innovation capacity is not developed by more and more isolated and individual pilots and projects, but through year on year development of a confidence and energy for social innovations that are only possible because of a maturing of connectivity and partnership: between business and public services, across localities and between partners in a region. This is particularly the case in the North – where cities cannot beat the economy into revival through competition, no firm is an island but part of a complex set of relationships between education, training, local government and business. The unique role of local government, stimulated by intemediaries like LGLH, is in being the key to collaborative thinking and practice across business and the public sector. LEPs have a long way to go before they have matured enough to usurp LAs in this regard.

Intermediaries such as LGYH do not have to be bureaucratic institutions to broker  the connections and opportunities for creative exchange or provide the challenge for  more creative solutions, but they do need the resources and the recognition of a role in strategic innovation thinking.

There is a real innovative energy in Yorkshire and Humber for partnership across Parties, between business, communities and public services – but it is unlikely this energy can develop into more innovative governance if the innovative leadership and knowledge exchange capacity,  contracts. Some competitive chief officers may think they can do better alone or with long-distance partners, but international links are not a substitute for locality grown relationships, for this is where innovative shared services, financial tools etc can be taken to scale in way that is not about efficiencies alone but adds ‘public value’ and creates  an wider ecosystem for innovation.

I hope common sense prevails, for amidst the gloom of financial crisis, the Far Right, community alienation and riots, there is a growing confidence in local government that stems not from individual council perfection but from a recognition that collaborative leadership underpins new forms of public governance and provide the backclothe for sustaining public sector innovation. 

Well done LGYH and Yorkshire and Humber Local Authorities

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