Closing the race attainment gap: a new report aims to help universities move forward

Image: Universities UK

On the face of it, the UK’s university sector is an international success story. UK universities attract global talent, valuable income and investment, produce world-leading research, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and improve people’s everyday lives in countless ways. Britain’s universities are also more racially and culturally diverse than ever before.

But a recent report has shone a spotlight on fundamental barriers to racial equality at UK universities, indicating that a student’s race and ethnicity can significantly affect their degree outcomes. The Universities UK (UUK) / National Union of Students (NUS) report highlights significant gaps in attainment between white students and their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) peers, finding that 81% of white students graduated with first and upper second class honours in 2017/18, compared to just 68% of BAME students. That’s an attainment gap of 13%.

The report echoes findings from the Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator for higher education in England. Earlier this year, the OfS reported stark gaps in achievement for black students, and also found that higher numbers of BAME students were dropping out of university before completing their courses.

Why are BAME students not doing as well at university compared with their white counterparts?

The UUK/NUS research identified four factors that are contributing to the attainment gap:

  1. Varying degrees of satisfaction among different student groups with the higher education curricula, and with the user-friendliness of learning, teaching and assessment practices.
  2. Relationships between staff and students and among students: a sense of ‘belonging’ emerged as a key determinant of student outcomes.
  3. Recurring differences in how students experience higher education, how they network and how they draw on external support were noted. Students’ financial situations also affect their student experience and their engagement with learning.
  4. The extent to which students feel supported and encouraged in their daily interactions within their institutions and with staff members was found to be a key variable.

 How universities can improve outcomes

As part of its research, UUK and NUS engaged with students, the higher education sector and external organisations to identify the most significant steps needed for success in reducing attainment differentials:

  1. Strong leadership – university leaders and senior managers need to demonstrate a commitment to removing the BAME attainment gap and lead by example.
  2. Having conversations about race and changing the culture – universities and students need more opportunities to have open, meaningful and constructive conversations about race, racism and what is causing the attainment gap.
  3. Developing racially diverse and inclusive environments – A greater focus is needed from across the sector, working with their students, on ensuring that BAME students have a good sense of belonging at their university, and an understanding of how a poor sense of belonging might be contributing to low levels of engagement and progression to postgraduate study.
  4. Assess the existing mix of data and evidence used to understand the causes of the attainment gap – The sector needs to take a more scientific approach to tackling the attainment gap, gathering and scrutinising data in a far more comprehensive way than currently, in order to inform discussions among university leaders, academics, practitioners and students.

The report also provides a checklist to help university senior leaders to move forward with their own strategies. Among the actions on the checklist are:

  • consider whether coaching, development opportunities or programmes are needed to give leaders the confidence to talk about race and take a leading role in opening conversations.
  • consider mechanisms for recognising (and perhaps rewarding) staff and students who press for the removal of racial inequalities.
  • take responsibility for ensuring that appropriate resources are dedicated to removing the attainment gap, including for any appropriate tailored interventions, research and expertise in data analysis.

Learning from what works

Another important recommendation in the report is that universities should share and learn from evidence of what works and what does not. Case studies throughout the report demonstrate that higher education institutions across the country are trying to close the attainment gap:

The University of Manchester and the university’s students’ union have been working in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Birmingham to deliver a Diversity and Inclusion Student Ambassador Programme to tackle the causes of differential outcomes for BAME undergraduate students and those from low socio-economic groups. Key features include creation of safe spaces, where students and staff can engage in open dialogue on inclusive learning and teaching environments, academic support and well-being; and training student ambassadors to safely challenge racism, microaggressions and discrimination.

Intercultural awareness workshops have helped students at Glasgow Caledonian University to develop a better understanding of different cultural norms and values. The programme provides a baseline for first-year students to develop their understanding and recognise the unconscious bias that exists within global academic, social and working environments. It has already won a Student Engagement Award and been shortlisted for an NUS Scotland 2019 diversity award.

The University of Arts London has developed a data dashboard – the academic enhancement model (AEM) – which gives accessible information to course teams about all aspects of the student experience and differentials. The AEM is a cross-university approach to removing attainment differentials, based on agreed data thresholds for attainment and student satisfaction scores. Courses that fall below these thresholds work with AEM leads to create co-designed AEM support packages. The approach has contributed to UAL’s success in tackling attainment issues: in 2018, the university saw a 4.9% reduction in its BAME attainment gap.

Closing the gap, reaping the rewards

The report has united universities and students in highlighting the race attainment gap, understanding the reasons behind it and tackling the problem.

Baroness Amos, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who co-led the report, said: “Our universities are racially and culturally diverse, compared to many other sectors, but we are failing a generation of students if we don’t act now to reduce the BAME attainment gap. Amatey Doku, NUS vice-president for higher education, added that for far too long universities had presided over significant gaps in attainment between BAME students and white students. “From decolonising the curriculum to more culturally competent support services, many students and students’ unions have been fighting and campaigning for action in this area for years.

Now that the issue has been raised, it’s up to universities to take action so that all students – whatever their background – are given every opportunity to reap the many rewards that higher education can bring.


If you’re interested in developments in higher education, take a look at our recent blog posts on the subject:

Digital Leaders Week: Digital transformation in local government

Image: Digital Leaders

Today is the start of Digital Leaders Week, a celebration of the opportunities and challenges for the digital transformation of Britain’s businesses, public services and society.

Here at the Knowledge Exchange blog, we’ve been taking a keen interest in digital developments in both the public and private sector. To celebrate Digital Leaders Week, we’re revisiting some of our digital-themed blog posts from the past, and bringing you up to date on current developments.

Several articles on our blog have highlighted the potential of digital technologies as drivers of internal transformation and improved service delivery in local government.

In May 2016, we looked at the benefits of digital for local authorities, noting that research by Nesta and the Public Service Transformation Network had suggested local councils could save £14.7 billion by moving all transactional services online and digitising back office functions. This echoed the findings of Policy Exchange, which reported that £10 billion could be saved by councils making smarter use of data and technology.

But another article on our blog also pointed to some of the reasons why local government was struggling to develop digital strategies, including limited infrastructure, red tape and funding issues:

“In theory, providing technical solutions to local government services should provide long term efficiencies. Yet, in an era of constrained budgets, finding the initial capital for digital projects can be challenging. Leaders in councils trying to fund social care services and schools may not view digital as a priority.”

Further blog posts have indicated that some councils are overcoming the barriers to digital change:

“For example, Cambridge City Council have launched Cambridgeshire Insight, a shared research knowledge base which allows over 20 public and third sector organisations to publish their data and make it freely available. We have also seen 18 councils coming together to collaborate on a project which aims to keep electoral registers up-to-date, potentially saving £20 million a year.”

Today, more councils are embracing the challenges and opportunities of digital. A good example comes from Adur & Worthing Councils, which believes that digital inclusion can greatly improve the lives of local people. Among the digital services now offered by Adur & Worthing is an online payments facility. In addition, online access points enable residents to get up-to-date information on important issues such as council tax, recycling, public transport and cultural events.

Another example is Nottingham City Council’s workflow management app, introduced to replace an inefficient paper-based system:

“The new app allows staff from customer services, highway inspectors and response teams to enter faults, such as potholes or damaged street lights, directly into the system. It then automatically allocates the fault to the relevant inspector and, once the work is completed, digitally signs it off. The council has reported that the app has created £100,000 in savings in less than one year.”

However, we’ve also underlined that there’s more to digital transformation than getting the technical aspects right:

“With digital transformation, technology is less important than the vision and leadership provided by senior officials. Encouraging data sharing across organisations, empowering employees, and importantly, investing in digital services, are just some of the key ingredients.”

It’s clear that digital transformation is a journey, not a final destination, and we’ll continue to report on the ways in which local government is embracing digital technologies for the benefit of councils and citizens.

Our next Digital Leaders Week blog post, on Wednesday, looks at digital developments in Singapore and Estonia.


With over 90% of UK local authorities as customers, Idox has built relationships that last across a varied portfolio, incorporating specialisms such as electoral management, business transformation, software solutions, managed services and front-end design and delivery. Our recent white paper explores the new digital trends being embraced by local government.

Youth participation and citizenship: hearing young people’s voices in North Ayrshire

2018 is the year of young people in Scotland. The idea is to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to take the lead.

Research published by the Scottish Government in 2018, Young people’s participation in decision making in Scotland: attitudes and perceptions showed that while many thought “adults” were good at listening to their views, many other barriers to having their views and opinions heard existed for young people. One of the main challenges was a feeling that young people’s views are discarded because “‘it doesn’t fit with what they (adults) want to hear”.

Hearing young people’s voices

The North Ayrshire Youth Participation and Citizenship strategy is a “unique and transferable” youth-friendly children’s rights engagement process, which informs local policy, corporate priorities and strengthens the voices of young people in local communities.

The framework “values and respects” youth participation as fundamental in the ongoing work to enable all aspects of community life to prosper. The programme of youth engagement undertaken at North Ayrshire saw them awarded a COSLA Gold award in a ceremony at the end of 2017.

The Youth Participation and Citizenship strategy sets out how young people across North Ayrshire can play an active role in their schools and communities. The framework encourages and supports the engagement and participation of young people across a range of areas including:

  • YouthBank YouthBank Scotland is a grant making and empowerment initiative run by young people for young people. It builds on young people’s skills and experiences to enable them to give cash for action, funding young people’s ideas for the benefit of the wider community.
  • Participatory budgeting initiatives  where young people can help to decide on funding applications for local projects.
  • Local participation initiatives – including Youth Forums, Pupil Councils, North Ayrshire Youth Council, Youth Groups, Eco Committees, Sports Leadership and Peer Education schemes.
  • National participation initiatives  the Scottish Youth Parliament, British Youth Council and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) National Youth Council.

In December 2017, North Ayrshire launched its Year of Young People 2018 plan. Activities include ‘Joint Cabinet Live’ which will bring together young people from all over North Ayrshire via a live video link, to interact with the Council’s Cabinet Members on the issues faced by young people living in the area.

Co-production and giving young people a choice

There is a strong focus on co-production, facilitating decisions to be made with, not to young people. There is also an understanding that engaging young people in all aspects of community life, both at a social and an administrative level can have positive consequences for the whole community, not just for the young people who participate.

The council engages with young people to ensure that they know their voices are heard and that council policy reflects their needs and aspirations for the future. It builds the skills and confidence of young people who have the opportunity to participate and can strengthen community engagement and cohesion as more people become involved.

As part of the North Ayrshire participatory budgeting initiative, funding was allocated to youth projects across North Ayrshire, and young people given the opportunity to vote for where they thought the money should be spent. Each young Scot in North Ayrshire, was able to vote for three projects they thought would most benefit from receiving funding (projects varied depending on which North Ayrshire locality they lived in, but were all organised either by or for the benefit of young people in the region). They were able to vote in school, as well as in colleges, local youth clubs, or from home using their Young Scot card number to go online and register their choices. The results were announced on 9 February 2018 and saw funding allocated according to the votes of young people, with almost 7000 young people taking part, almost 50% of those eligible.

Award winning approach

In 2017, the North Ayrshire youth services team were awarded the COSLA gold award for their efforts. The award recognised the work of  the Youth Services team in creating a culture of participation, which allows young people to have a real impact in shaping the services the Council delivers. For example, the Council operates a joint Youth Cabinet, which allows young people to work alongside Elected Members and be directly involved in the decision-making process.

North Ayrshire’s engagement approach has been seen as a blueprint for engagement across the community within towns and cities across Scotland. Three months into the “Year of Young People”, other local authorities are being encouraged to follow suit and rethink how they engage and use the voices and opinions of young people within their communities to support inclusive decision making.

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How to become a more effective coach

Teacher talking with student

Coaching can be described as the use of positive support, feedback and advice to help improve personal effectiveness.

Its use within the work environment is not a new concept.  Indeed, according to the CIPD, 9 out of 10 organisations already use coaching by line managers, and 2 out of 3 use external coaches.

However, despite its prevalence, there is very little research evidence about what makes a ‘good’ coach and whether coaching actually works.

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are among those working to address this.  In August, they published a report which explored the factors leading to coaching success, from both the coach and the coachee perspective.  They also examined the nature of an effective coaching relationship and set out practical advice for organisations on how to improve coaching elements of everyday work.

The key to success

They found that, according to coachees, the most important characteristics of a coach were:

  1. Communicates clearly (including the ‘ability to listen’, ‘ask good questions’ and being ‘non-directive’)
  2. Displays emotional intelligence (e.g. ‘presence’, ‘emotionally involved’, ‘awareness’, ‘connection’, ‘sensitive’, ‘empowering’, and ‘authentic’)
  3. Has experience within the coachee’s industry
  4. Is challenging but supportive
  5. Displays acceptance of the coachee

In the context of achieving successful outcomes from coaching specifically, coachees felt that successful coaches:

  1. Displayed acceptance of the coachee
  2. Were calm
  3. Displayed self-confidence
  4. Were organised
  5. Had experience within their industry

The characteristic ‘has experience within my industry’ was of particular interest.  Whether or not coaches need experience of the industry in which their coachee works is a point of contention between different coaching researchers and practitioners.  Based on this research, the IES suggest that industry experience may help to improve coach credibility, but also note that who coaches are has importance to coachees, not just what they do”.

They conclude that “the key to effective coaching lies within the coachee having respect for the coach’s ability. A coachee can also derive comfort from the coach’s experience in dealing with situations, and in the coach’s confidence and manner”.

While the characteristics perceived as important by coach and coachee were broadly similar, it was noted that coaches being organised, calm and self-confident was considered very important to coachees – much more so than to the coaches themselves.

In terms of the coaching relationship, the coach having ‘similar values’ was considered the key to success.   It is thought that such shared values may promote the sense of connection between the coach and coachee.  The coach being the same gender, age or having a similar personality was less important to the development of a successful coaching relationship.

Addressing the barriers

The majority of coachees felt that their coaching was effective.  However, there is clearly room for improvement – around 1 in 10 people felt that their coaching was of limited or no effect at allPrevious research by the IES has also shown that as many as 84% of coachees have faced barriers to their coaching experience.  These include:

  1. Unclear goals
  2. Emotions getting in the way
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Unsupportive boss
  5. Defensiveness

Coachees also faced difficulties with:

  • Their own readiness and engagement
  • The coaching model used
  • Organisational culture/boss
  • Coaches skills or manner
  • External events
  • The coaching relationship

Awareness of the barriers commonly experienced by coachees and the factors coachees perceive as contributing towards their success is a useful first step towards developing and adopting effective coaching practices.

Improving coaching practice

According to the IES, their research on coaching is a conscious attempt to “shift away from ‘guru’- led coaching practices to research-informed and evidence-based practices”.  Based on their research to date, they offer the following advice for coaches and line managers:

  • Not to worry about having less experience than coachees – that the coachee having respect for your ability is more important
  • Weave reflection into everyday coaching practice after each session/encounter – consider how to best help your coachee, how your coaching made a difference, and how your coaching compares to that of others
  • Obtain feedback from your coachee about what you did that made the coaching successful (or unsuccessful) for them, and ask them to contribute to collective feedback mechanisms such as evaluation surveys

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our briefing on coaching and mentoring.

Digital leadership: how should digital be represented at board level?

DARPA_Big_DataBy Sarah Vick, Managing Director, Reading Room

How can leaders ensure digital is a strategic strength? In a Reading Room roundtable event, we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses.

Being at the forefront of digital is central to operations, corporate strategy, customer experience and communications. But should this responsibility sit under the remit of a traditional board-level director, in the form of a Chief Digital Officer? Or should every senior executive be digitally savvy? In both cases, what does the board need to know and do to ensure that digital is a strategic strength of the business?

From ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital

In our roundtable event we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses for both boards and people working in digital roles within organisations.

We concluded that either digital changes you as an organisation or you choose to actively manage your digital transformation. Those organisations that make a decision to manage their transformation and learn from doing so are more likely to be successful in the future. This takes bravery; the people on boards are no longer the experts. If they are brave enough to admit that they need to learn in order to change,  that’s the best first step to take.

The rate of change that digital technology has brought about means boards are being challenged to make ever faster decisions, and to reconsider the benefit of long-term planning. Is it really possible to plan five years in advance? Won’t the world as we know it have completely changed again in that time frame? Boards operating in highly regulated or governance-heavy environments have additional hurdles to jump in a fast-paced environment.

Experimentation in order to build a business case for change

It was clear in our discussions that boards and directors needed to be able to make decisions based on business cases that explained the impact digital initiatives would have on an organisation.

Often these business cases will propose an initial spend in order to test a certain proposition. However being awarded budget (even minimal) to test and experiment is often difficult to achieve. At Reading Room, we have found that organisations who are willing to test ideas out, find it easier to innovate and, as a result, are often ahead of their competitors or the first to market.

Directors need to understand that organisations have to change and that digital is a key aspect in bringing about change. At the same time, having an understanding of the benefits of testing ideas out in order to make longer term strategic decisions is an important skill to have at board level and something organisations should advocate.

Becoming a joined up digital organisation

‘Digital’ people within an organisation are often those who are willing to shine a torch on problem areas. They are both the disrupters and the teachers; causing those around them to love them and be afraid of them in equal measure.

One area where the torch gets shined is on the myriad of internal systems that aren’t joined up and don’t allow data to flow from one to another. This topic is often raised at board level, but because the projects associated with joining systems up often do not result in immediate results or a difference in the front-end user experience, they risk getting passed over for ‘shinier’ activities.

It is important that people reporting into boards are able to demonstrate the efficiencies that can be made from allowing systems to talk to each other. Again, being able to undertake proof of concept or short-run experimental projects can often help to build a business case.

Digital knowledge can inform strategic planning

Not all board positions are occupied by digitally savvy people, yet the board is expected to make decisions in a world that is changing faster and faster because of the impact of digital. There is a need for more education at board level to help organisations to make better strategic decisions in relation to digital. Another tip is to avoid board discussions where the board gets pulled into the detail of plans, which is not a good use of their time.

Boards need to be strategic and hold the vision for the future of the organisation. They need to have a holistic approach and to understand how core areas such as data and content fit into their overall vision. Having a common understanding and a clear vision for how digital fits into the organisational strategy is a place where boards should strive to get to.

Do we need Chief Digital Officers?

In our discussions we concluded that at this point in time it was useful to have someone who has a good understanding of the impact and potential of digital and could champion this at board level. They would often be the person who the people delivering initiatives would have an ongoing discussion with outside of the boardroom. They might also be the person to allay fears and drive change within an organisation.

Digital initiatives often result in wide and deep structural and/or cultural changes. Having someone at the helm to help navigate these changes can be hugely beneficial. They also help to avoid people blaming ‘IT’ or ‘digital’ if things go wrong or there are teething problems.

We also discussed the premise that having a Chief Digital Officer would probably be a passing phase and that as the wider board became more digitally savvy and digital was more integrated into every part of an organisation, the role would evolve or no longer be required.

One red flag raised on the topic of Chief Digital Officers is that having a single person at board level responsible for digital does run the risk of them becoming the scapegoat if things go wrong. There is a risk that their appointment can let everyone else off the hook. If we are to argue that digital touches all aspects of business then surely the board as a whole needs to be accountable?

Over the years, some IT departments have operated at arms-length from the organisations they serve. Many have found it’s easier to say no rather than move forward. We do not want this to become the fate of the digital department, whether the organisation is operating in the private sector or the public sector.


Reading Room is is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help clients benefit from technological change. It joined the Idox group of companies in 2015.

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How does leadership contribute to inclusive growth?

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

By Rebecca Riley

‘Local leadership for inclusive growth’ was the theme of the 11th Annual meeting of the OECD LEED Forum, aimed at bringing national leaders, policy makers and practitioners together to discuss how inclusive growth can be built from the ground up. It was a rare opportunity to see international projects tackling similar issues in local economic development and share knowledge and good practice. It was great to see so many of our own members such as @jrf_uk @ukces @neweconomymcr and @CentreforCities playing key roles in the thinking behind this event.

It was appropriate that it was held in Manchester, given that the city is undergoing something of a transformation in its future, with devolution deals, transfer of powers and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda. We met in the amazing neo-gothic Town Hall, with tiled floors littered with worker bees, symbolising the Mancunian’s hard work during the industrial revolution (knowledge pulled from my long distant school days, to the interest of the Swedish representative I was talking to). This symbol of industry, depicting Manchester as a hive of activity and having a leading role in mass production, seemed an apt backdrop to what was a packed agenda. This agenda and format led to some key themes and ideas which sprung up across the two days.

Growth through people

At the centre of the discussion was the idea that people make places what they are. Panel reflections and questions highlighted the futility of building infrastructure that won’t be used and the importance of understanding the ‘consumers of place’ when developing. How can we create a demand led system?

Key to this was a thread asking how can you attract anchor institutions, to be part of the fabric of place, attract workers, provide employment or add to the cultural assets. Recent work published by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies working with Preston City Council has looked at the role of anchor institutions and how they can maximise their local impact.

Places need to take control of these relationships and their own destinies. This was echoed by the first round of panelists, Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester; Roger Mogert, Stockholm; Jurgen Bruns-Berentelg, Hamburg; and Bob Van Der Zande, the Netherlands. They all spoke of engaging local people, businesses and visitors in their plans; competition at a place level with neighbours; engaing and getting the most out of national agendas; and being purposeful in their objectives.

Employment and skills

Given the monument to the Victorians which we were meeting in, it was inevitable that parallels would be drawn between the innovation of the Victorians and job creation – but how inclusive was that growth and what can we learn from their mistakes?

A major issue facing many of the projects showcased, was unemployment (especially amount the young) and solutions were very locally based, addressing very local issues. This tailoring of programmes and projects seemed to be the greatest factor in their success, and was in itself a powerful message for devolving powers and resources locally. However there were some lessons which could be applied across geographies, (echoed in the UKCES report Growth through People):

  • Understanding the local needs and matching employers to people
  • Appreciate the value and recognise benefits of vocational routes; earning and learning should be the gold standard
  • Employers should lead on skills, governments should enable them
  • Education organisations and employers should be better connected
  • Success is more than educational attainment.

There was, however, a lack of discussion about technology driven growth, and what the future of work will hold. The world is facing its next industrial revolution, whole new skills sets and industrial structures are now emerging and old skills are being replaced by technology.

I couldn’t help but think that the discussion would have benefitted from an exploration of the concept that “The idea of a single education, followed by a single career, finishing with a single pension, is over” and places should be embracing this fluidity of work and portfolio employment through their strategic and infrastructure planning.

Hollowing of skills and middle level roles

The work presented on ‘hollowing out’ was met with nods from across the room. This process where jobs in middle ‘transition’ roles are lost, which span the gap between low skill and high skill jobs, has been ongoing for decades however it’s now starting to really bite. Loss of jobs such as skilled trades, secretarial and administrative jobs and skilled manufacturing jobs has created barriers to aspiration and development and leaves people stuck in very low-end service roles unable to cross the divide. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UKCES both provided excellent presentations on this and highlighted that this job polarisation has been magnified by recession.

Effective and collective leadership

Although there was a lack of opportunity to discuss what makes a good local leader in depth, the need for strong local leadership was reiterated throughout the event. The panellists and presenters often used a very broad definition of local leadership, from the parents, whose skills affect their children’s life chances; education providers and employers who need to build skills ladders and raise the floor on skills; to local civic leaders who provide drive and vision that places can get behind.

The leadership skills which did crop up again and again in the discussions, and were demonstrated by panel members themselves, reflected the new skills sets emerging across the board in all jobs, but are even more important in leaders:

  • Effective collaborators and partnership managers able to bring together coalitions, and able to ‘get people onside’ with what you are trying to achieve;
  • Increasingly networked, to learn from others, find new ways to tackle issues and access the people or organisations who can help deliver;
  • The need for clear vision but also flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and maximise opportunities;
  • Creativity and entrepreneurism to be able respond to continuous change;
  • Embracing of technology, innovation, and change, striving for creative places which draw the best people and are sustainable.

Breadth of interest

One of the most impressive and memorable elements of the event, was the use of Graphic Recording, capturing key quotes and ideas from the engaging panel discussions and full images can be found here. This technique helps to cement the ideas and thoughts of the event, captures the essence of the discussions and serves as an excellent reminder of the breadth of work going on in Local Leadership for Inclusive Growth.


The slides on the day are available to download here and a Storify of the event can be accessed here.

The Idox Information Service can help you access to a wealth of further information on local economic development. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered at the event*:

Tomorrow’s growth: new routes to higher skills

Describing inequalities in access to employment and the associated of geography of wellbeing

Local action, national success: how outcome agreements can improve skills delivery

Local leadership, local growth

Growth Cities: Local investment for national prosperity

A brighter future for our towns and cities

Looking through the hourglass: hollowing out of the UK jobs market pre- and post-crisis

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Grey men dreaming of vibrant cities?

Image by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

Image of MediaCity, Manchester by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

They control combined budgets of over £10bn, deliver 24.4% of the combined economic output of England, Scotland and Wales, and are home to over 21 million people. What are they? The Core Cities of the UK – and as pre-election lobbying ramps up a gear they are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

Last week I attended the Core Cities Devolution Summit. This event, hosted in Glasgow, marked the launch of a modern charter for local freedom. It also gave those interested in the current cities agenda a chance to hear from the city leaders on the potential benefits of reform.

I won’t summarise the charter, or the main recommendations of a new report from ResPublica which argues for the fullest possible devolution of public spending and tax raising powers to the UK’s largest cities and city regions. Instead, here are a few reflections on the day.

Bespoke devolution

The hype over Manchester’s recent devolution agreement with the Treasury shouldn’t distract from the fact that devolution is not a one-size-fits-all model. The idea isn’t to try and mimic Manchester’s journey – what’s on the cards is an approach that takes account of local circumstances.

I’m not sure that the end result of this – potentially radically different priorities in revenue generation, service delivery and spending between neighbouring metropolitan areas – is being communicated in a transparent way. Ben Page from IpsosMori shared some interesting survey results which suggest that public opinion also lags behind the political agenda:

ipsos survey 1

ipsos survey 2Leadership not bureaucracy

Mention devolution and one of the immediate responses of naysayers is to complain it’s just yet another layer of governance – more costs, more staff, more vested interests. This was raised during Q&A and the panel responded by saying that what they are proposing doesn’t require massive reorganisation – it’s about effective leadership. The same pots of money are used but funds can be accessed in different ways for different purposes.

This was only half-convincing. Repeated reference to place-based decision-making (breaking down functional /organisational silos to ensure services are focused on outcomes and those residents with complex needs) didn’t really explain how you build the trust and political capacity that’s needed to roll out transformation across multiple agencies/workforces at the same speed and scale.

Equalities

Presenting a different perspective on the day was Professor Lesley Sawers, who highlighted the risks of unintended consequences from devolution in terms of social justice and inequalities. She argued that so far localism has led to an approach to investment that has not been particularly effective in tackling equalities issues.

Cities should be great agents of social reform but the rhetoric around growth has a tendency to focus on infrastructure and macroeconomics – ignoring social challenges such as skills, poverty and under-achievement. And it may seem an easy point to score, but running an event with only 3 female speakers out of 25, didn’t really send a great message to observers. Don’t even mention the lack of ethnic diversity on the platform.

What now?

The devolution agenda may be the ‘only show in town’ but whether the core cities can take advantage of this to benefit and engage their own populations remains to be seen.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on governance and city regions. Members receive regular briefings as well as access to our Ask a Researcher enquiry service.