The English approach to localism includes what is called “City Deals” – a strategy whereby councils are encouraged to create “combined authorities” in order to be able to negotiate the transfer of powers and functions with central government.
Problem solving close to the ground rather than policy making from a remote national capital has the benefit of customisation.A local solution can be a more efficient use of resources since it is aligned with the distinctive needs of a particular place (Bruce Katz, Jeremy Nowak, “The New Localism”)
The first and best known City Deal was with Manchester City Region (see Krupp 2015). The roles, responsibilities and funding transferred from central government to the combined authority included skills development, employment, housing, re-offending and justice as well as health and social services. As chance would have it Sir Howard Bernstein, the former CE of Manchester City and one of the architects of the deal negotiations, was recently in New Zealand where he spoke to a group of enthusiasts in Wellington. Some of his key observations were:
- The plan to achieve a city deal was a long term one that began with an assessment of the ability of the city to meet its future challenges.
- A strategy was developed that was subject to peer review by highly regarded urban development specialists. The independent review was critical for getting support from Whitehall officials;
- They needed to convince central government that they could be a trusted partner;
- The case was argued on the need to have neighbourhood based integrated commissioning of all public services in order to reduce demand for tertiary health services;
- Arguing for the transfer of hospitals and health service gave their application greater credibility;
- George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was an essential champion within the Government who was able to deal with “blockages” in the civil service.
By seeking additional powers and responsibilities the councils were responding to the failure of the existing “top down” way of delivering and commissioning services. Sir Howard’s argument was that the needs of Manchester could only be properly met by the city itself having a greater say in the commissioning of services. It was a case of elected members aware of their public duty of care realising they did not have power to make a difference.