where are the women mayoral candidates?

15 Apr

Leading marketing companies are telling TESCO they need a woman ceo to make the company less macho and customer friendly.  The qualities of women leaders are recognised by African countries and promoting a woman, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the Nigerian Finance Minister as a leading contender for the post of president for the World Bank. Read excellent article by FT editor on West Africa www.ft.com/12dayswestafrica.

In  spite of a growing confidence in women’s leadership in transformation and governance, why are the women standing for mayor in London ignored? and are there women candidates for mayoral posts in the regions ? The problem for women is that they had to have succeeded and be a celebrity to be even acknowledged.

Meanwhile, apparently senior men in local government are complaining that too many women are securing local government executive jobs !!! Are they serious? Or is that when women are recognized for their transformative abilities, men comfortable with the status quo cry foul play because surely it is their right to be leaders inspite of their abilities.

For some reason it continues to be unfashionable to discuss gender politics within the UK – ” We’ve passed that” Women leaders are important in Africa and the South but not in Whitehall, Manchester or Berkshire. Tory women especially claim that if women who shout about the lack of women in leadership positions they must be ‘weak’ and that ‘they did it’ on their own – in fact the cultural shift that had taken place over the past 20 years and opened doors for them is largely due to other women campaigners.

Unfortunately, women’s equality was usually based on the unfairness argument (which of course it was/is) but as important is the arguement that any just and fair society requires men and women in leadership positions, on boards and in government. Women are not only competent managers they are increasingly needed in governance roles in communities, companies and politics. And while women are increasingly gaining executive positions in the public sector but they have not yet broken into corporation or political decision-making, and consequently the culture in Westminster and the boardroom remains conformist and complacent in practice.

While a single woman leader usually can successful lead a system, it needs more of a critical mass to transform systems and cultures. Those countries where women play a leading and equal role throughout society, such as in Iceland, then you can feel the difference in approach to problems and to life. The value system shifts from WASPish single track ambitions to social considerations and an interest in the impact of policies on people. I would welcome anyone visit Iceland it is interesting. 95% of women work and childcare is free.

There is a growing recognition that women are at the heart of change in countries undergoing transition – why don’t we recognise that Britain is also undergoing transition and that not to promote womenleaders here will reinforce an economic and social trajectory that is centralist and backs corporations rather than local connectivity, small business and social enterprise.

Where and if mayors are to be adopted, lets make sure we search for EXPERIENCED WOMEN CANDIDATES !!!


The crisis in capitalism calls for local banks & stronger local governance

3 Feb

When George Osborne pronouces a crisis of confidence in international capitalism, the majority of the public are angry about bank bonuses and Lord Mandelson recants on ‘being relaxed about wealth’ – then, you know there’s a real opportunity for socialising business and for greater governance locally as well as nationally and internationally.

Development through ‘any old supermarket’ is not good enough – there are investors out there who are interested in making a difference. There is a growing realism that ‘making money from gambling’ is ultimately unrewarding – investing in places and people is more motivating for Bill Gates etc than a bonus. The problem is that we are uncertain of the mechanisms to achieve this- too much company law rewards and accounting practice are based on assumptions that short-term financial gain is the only way to measure success.

The crisis of the banks is not just about money and debt – it is also about a set of institutions that have lost their connectedness to society, and particularly to the communities they serve, not just their individual customers. Even though, economic revival, especially in the regions, depends on SMEs – the banks continue to ignore very small businesses (which are sunk without family support) and are refusing funds even established larger companies. Their risk aversion that the corporation not the local economy.

Less tribal and more imaginative local governance could inspire  more innovative ways of supporting open-learning, local services and small businesses and along the way inject some life into local democracy.

A look at the some of the assumptions embedded in economic development thinking reveals that new start-ups and social enteprise need connectivity to supply chains, not competition;  – access to funder who care about what want to do and about what impact the business will have locally; –  business and enterprise are just as dependent on public services and infrastructure as are the public.

Collaborative leadership has become a necessity not wishful thinking -but an essential ingredient of developing a more humane society where people’s interdependence is acknowledged and valued.

What would make the most difference to SMEs and social enterprise across the country are local banks that lend on the basis on local innovation and local returns.

Theres hoping that Eden and Cornwall come up trumps with their bid for a local Green Investment Fund. Be brave BIS give Cornwall a boost.

Doing a session on commuity leadership in Eden on Sunday at their Locality Planning Camp

Local Resilience – doesn’t just happen

13 Dec

I had an interesting conversation today with Kate Braithwaite who has been active in Cumbria for many years and is now working for UnLtd overseeing their social enterprise programme. This programme has funds for social entrepreneurs living in any part of the UK and is not focused on any one group, region or particular community and is open to those living in urban and rural areas. www.unltd.org.uk

We agreed that there was a need to support innovators whereever they were. Most programmes tend to be directed at particular groups or like the Locality Communities Programme targetted at communities previously over-looked.  St Blazey/ Par in Cornwall is one such community, another is a pocket of estates in Islington. Looking back we could see where particular interventions in the 1970s had an a lasting impact; for instance the Community Development Projects in Coventry, Batley, Belfast and Barrow had left a legacy of local relationships and started a tradition of joint working.  The Health Action Zones also left such  legacy of joint working, a substantial third sector base and robust partnership relationships . There are many more, the point is that we spend no time at all reflecting on those interventions that helped build local confidence or indeed that eroded it. Sixties tower blocks and grey estates did little to nurture people’s well-being or build a confidence in organising.

We agreed that where local communities have an energy there is often a legacy footprint, alongside contemporary energy for social alternatives and  experimentation. Local authority and business endorsement of experimentation is also important, few places succeed where local leadership is weak.  Size also matters, large communities can be overwhelming and very small ones oppressive – Kate thought the optimum size for cohesive places was between 2000 and 10,000. 

By contrast those places without energy, backing and legacy find it harder to build resilience, especially where the local, political leadership is complacent, over-controlling and tribal.  The police have been playing a much more active role in lifting communities than is recognised and have local businesse as well as community organisations. The role of local leaders is surely not to control but to create the opportunities for exchange between business, community organisations other public services.

Scale is not just a matter of ‘scaling up’ but also of scaling down to human dimensions. It is the linkage between ‘communities you can get your arms around’ and the institutions that govern us that matter;  governance and government are not redundant and cannot be dumped but they do need reforming. The introduction of Mayors of itself is hardly likely to generate the confidence needed in politics for  local democracy to move on to a more active phase, where voting is part of a larger process of political engagement.  We need good governance to ensure that one group is not privileged over another and to create common social space, activities and services without which inequalities will further demoralise the poor and undermine the connections between people which form the fabric of a good society.

Earlier in the week I was with a  Swedish delegation who were fearful that the Far Right were gaining ground within local democratic organisations – they wanted to know about co-production and joint services – we were surprised because local democratic relationships and innovation in most Swedish cities far exceeds that in the UK – but not apparently in the rural areas where people are increasingly, suspicious and fearful .

When people are fearful they stop talking and begin to demonise each other – given our press it is amazing that more people are not ‘tooled up’ for trouble. Unfortunately, although the British public are sceptical of the media not having a grown-up media means that complicated issues like the  euro and banking crises are poorly covered and ignorance prevails.

The lack of serious reflection on how build resilience in demoralised communities is a problem – and one which those adept at using the social media could address………… it  takes time though and we need to reclaim our time and our confidence in people..

Living on the Edge – countries and people

3 Dec

At the Universities Engage Conference in Bristol on Wednesday, delegates met from universities around the country to discuss ‘public enagement’ work.  At a Comix event organised by Erinma Ochu, a very creative woman heading up the Manchester Beacons Project,  Carolyn Kagan (Man Met) used the metaphor of the ‘Edge’ to convey the space,place and experience of those in HE attempting to connect to communities.  My contribution was on transforming HE institutions and incentivising academic staff.  While the conference was full, there was only a handful of research staff present – yet these are the very people who need to be able to communicate with the public more. Those academics working ‘on the edge’ in universities are not taken seriously by their colleagues and most universities now rely on full-time non-academic staff to do public engagement work. No matter how dynamic an ‘engagement programme’ if higher education remains inpenetrable and academic staff micro-managed, public engagement will remain marginal and universities less effective as civic leaders.  Why?  because closed- systems smother innovation.



In fact it feels like we are all ‘living on the edge’ at the moment.

Anxiety is spreading which is affecting everyone and their decisions. The press tend to fuel this anxiety by not exploring how we can reconnect local-living within a global trading environment. This week ‘Starbucks’ replaced a good cafe in the university precinct by offering Blackwells a rent they couldn’t refuse. We are not carfeful enough to support local SMEs when considering value-for-money. There is a new edge between private corporations and local business- yet, too often public leaders are busy defending the public sector and not interested in their own business sector.

Political commentators are obsessed with reducing the public sector and public sector reform, when what we need is a reform of economic and international financial systems. The government cannot expect people to ‘trust’ them when their understanding of how to build recovery and resilience is so weak.  Public sector reform is only part of  a much bigger problem of global financial systems that only value ‘the bottom-line’. Whilst I know little about company law – I feel we could emulate the Victorians more in their innovations in company governance arrangements which value social return.  A combination of complacency and lack of innovation is resulting in government shying away from making radical changes in boardroom-decision-making.

One compensation is that there is a growing recognition that professional, working people and the under-employed are suffering and this is lessening a sense of common of inequalities and bringing people together again- after 20 years of competitive individualism:  but this is not a subsitute for debate on how to develop more sustainable systems and not assume that ‘out of chaos’ a new, better society will just emerge.

My gloom stems from the lack of the discusssion about how to regear the market economy away from serving the  corporate giants (mobile money, people and assets) towards exploring how global and national financial systems could value public infrastructure, governance and social assets – there has to be more that can be done to influence the way company boardrooms operate. The current economic system is not sustainable even for Germany – so where is the national and international leadership posing more challenging questions.

People are much more likely to agree to pension reductions etc, if they can see that social inequalities are being addressed through systemic changes rather than be left to a new version of Victorian philanthropy.

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

See awards www.lgyh.gov.uk

Socialising Business – increase number of women on boards?

29 Oct

Cameron’s latest plea to companies is to get more women into the boardroom. The Coalition government is obviously desparate to find ways of stopping company executives paying themselves excessive bonuses ( 49%in some cases) when the economy is stagnant, unemployment is growing and growth is not. This seems a bit of a cop-out when what is needed are legislative, regulatory and structural reform not just of finanical transactions but perhaps also of company law. Socialising business cannot just be left to individuals and more principled practice – if government has no role in governance frameworks we are lost.

It is also ironic that Cameron’s solution is dependent, not on his government, but on women who have been excluded from the boardroom for years on the grounds that they are not pushy or hungry enough to survive.  Yet more research by Harvard Business School, yet again calls for women to get tougher, be more assertive and single minded then they will get a seat on the board- in fact women would be more more attracted to financial services and the boardroom if the men made some effort to change. 

The issue is not whether women are hard enough to enter the boardroom but whether politicians and business leaders start to recognise the dangerous consequences of ‘male’ only cultures, where impression management and cultural conformity to the  bottom-line totally obscures the need for an intelligent analysis of short-termism and the impact of forms of financial innovation that have given innovation a bad name. 

Women in business earn on average 20% less than men and in my experience are not so masochistic that they are desparate to work in the city. It is true that when women sit as boards members they do tend to question the impact of practices, judgements and systems (read Enron account)more than many of their male colleagues, who appear more concerned with following conventions. Male cultures often are compliant cultures – which is one of the reasons why perfectly civil guys when in the company of their mates become macho (read Tony Blair’s diaries/watch Paxman etc). However, critical scrutiny is usually not welcomed within the boardroom, unless it is chaired by a woman, those who voice concerns over practices or who want to unravel risks are  usually viewed as irritants, mavericks or outsiders. In such an environment, those who alert their colleagues to risk and dangers are not listened to.

Charles Handy  told an audience in London Business School some years ago that if you really want to change the attitudes of dominant men, speak to their working daughters. Daughters he said have the power to ‘speak truth to power’ and could tell their dads that governance in the boardroom is just as important as it is in government  – and that society depends business finding a way of acknowledging  ‘social value’ and local connectedness within corporate strategy would make a difference to the company’s reputation and with more robust national governance, their survival.

Innovation in public sector drives private sector growth

22 Oct

On the 21st October in MBS the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research presented findings from a recent survey on ‘Public Procurement and Innovation’ part of a wider study sponsored by the ESRC, BIS, NESTA & the TSB . Professor Jakob Edler and Dr Elvira Uyarra said the team were surprised themselves by some of the findings; particularly that innovation in the public sector was when adopted by businessn was improving their export sales.

Key findings can be found on http://research.mbs.ac.uk/innovation and were presented to a small group of  public procurers in local government, health and the Cabinet Office alongside those from supplier companies such as SERCO and smaller companies such as Renfrew.

Out of a sample of 800, 50% of which were SMEs, 60% of reported that government, in particular, was stimulating innovation in business largely  in larger companies. In other words the procurement process was having more impact than had been expected – particularly where contract specifications made direct reference to requiring innovation. Innovation was more likely suppliers said, if procurers had early interactions with them and was ‘outcome’ focused.

However, the survey also reinforced well-known anedotal barriers to innovation mentioned by the majority of respondents such as,  price, too little early conversation between supplier and public buyer,  risk-averse procurers,  little acceptance of variation and over-prescriptive specifications.  SMES , Social enterprise and third sector organisations were particuarly excluded by the above. None of which was surprising.

David Shields, Head of Government Procurement Services said a lot of the difficulties concerned siloed budgets in government and public services and wider structural barriers  that determine the timescale, criteria and performance measures in contracts. he also said he thought these could be overcome with better procurement practices. “The main issue is how to take to scale?”

Mike Phillips from Renfrew a  design company brokering engineering solutions reported that in his experience public procurers remained risk averse to new solutions. He thought the problems were felt in smaller companies down the supply chain. Innovators who provide solutions, discover that once their innovations are accepted and are adopted by the NHS or DH they are caste back down the supply chain even though they drove the innovation in the first place.

Colin Cram from MERK1 said ” SMES cannot respond to specifications, yet they are the key to recovery and growth, the public sector tends to buy what its always bought and goes along with grand schemes rather than smaller innovators.”  

I agreed that given that SMES are key to local recovery, public procurers had to  find ways of involving SMES and that this was an issue about size as much as ownership; public institutions talk to corporates and do not have the mechanisms for networking with smaller agencies or the contacts for spotting innovation. Whereas they do have the internal human capacity for public procurement. At the local level there is more effort to communicate with  SMES and social enterprises, their being at the heart of more innovative services in health, care and personalised services.

There are two strands to governmental innovation practice, one which is about efficiencies and taking innovation scale and the other about exploring alternatives and supporting pilots. Departments such as the DH and MOJ in particular invest smaller entrepreneurial SEs for their innovative personalised services for offenders, NEETS or those with mental health problems etc and then cannot find a way of commissioning these from the mainstream. The issue of how to take to service innovation scale is a critical problem for public service reform. At the moment too many smaller third sector organisations and social enterprise are losing their contracts rather than gaining them because they are not large enough to compete and do not fulfil criteria of having a turnover over £2million or the financial capacity to carry costs incurred in development that large, public service contracts involve.

Where it is a matter of innovative products central government can commission once  departments barriers are overcome. For instance, at the roundtable Alec from Coston recounted the how they had created a ‘closed loop service’ for waste paper recycling for various goverment depts and were looking to extend their services across the whole of government in order to achieve a level of tonnage that would justify no longer sending waste-paper to Germany for recycling.

Innovative services are delivered through a complex set of relationships that demand continuity – the value of smaller social enterprise is that they have the capacity to respond to changing personal and local conditions; these smaller agencies  are not large to win large contracts from DWP, DH etc,  most had contracts with the Local Authorities. Given public expenditure cuts, local authorities have 25% less to purchase with. 

DWP appear aware of the conundrum of both the need to rationalise the benefits system to reduce costs and of delivering more effective personalised local services, in an attempt to deliver on both counts they are putting pressure on prime contractors to work in partnership with local sub-contracting agencies ( often in the third sector or a social enterprise). 

However, this is not just a managerial solution but also a political one of priorities. It is interesting that a Tory MP, Chris White  is introducing a Bill to support the work of innovative social enterprise by including ‘social value’ as an outcome to be delivered by suppliers within contract specifications, alongside ‘price’ and other outcomes . He said he recognised this is a ‘Dry Bill’ not one that needs supporting non-the less. 

Social Enterprise 2011 on 8the November in London, we need more of these events in Manchester see Guardian.co.uk/socialenterprise.