Zero suicide cities: learning from Detroit in the UK

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Yet people still experience stigma when seeking help for mental illness, despite high-profile discussions of mental health issues such as those by members of the royal family and sportspeople. And a report into the Government’s suicide prevention strategy in March 2017, suggested that although 95% of local authorities now have a suicide prevention plan, there is little or no information about the quality of those plans, or whether adequate funding is available to implement them.

The lack of progress made on improving suicide and general mental health provision has led to a growing frustration among professionals and resulted in attempts to create new approaches to tackle mental health issues, and in particular to improve access to support for people in crisis or at risk of suicide.

The idea of a “zero suicide city” was first adopted in Detroit in the late 2000’s, with others following its lead in subsequent years. With reports finding that around 14 Londoners a week took their own life in 2015 (735 in total), an increase of a third from the 2014 statistics, a report in February 2017 by the London Assembly Health Committee suggested that London too should take this approach.

So what can London, and other areas of the UK, learn from Detroit’s approach? And how can services act to reduce the number of people taking their own lives?

Zero-suicide cities

Poverty and high unemployment in Detroit are contributing factors to high levels of depression among city residents. As a result of these high rates of depression and very high suicide statistics, Detroit-based mental health professionals adopted a new approach to tackle the stigma around mental illness and use identifiers to highlight cases of crisis, or potential crisis. The focus is on preventative care, encouraging professionals to act upon signs of mental illness before a suicide or attempted suicide takes place.

Patients attending health clinics for other illnesses, including diabetes or heart failure, are also now screened for depression and other mental health issues before they are released. This allows people deemed to be ‘at risk’ to be identified as soon as they come into contact with medical professionals, who can then refer the patient to a mental health specialist if needed, rather than reacting to mental illness once it reaches crisis point.

In order to support this approach, a centralised IT system was created which means results are traceable, and surveys and information are standardised so they can be used and accessed across clinics throughout Detroit. Coordination with non-medical practitioners, including social workers, employers and family members, has also been key in identifying people at risk and signposting them to help at every possible opportunity. There has also been additional training for staff to improve recognition of identifying factors. Patients can email their clinicians or liaising staff directly and attend regular drop-in appointments. Up to 12,000 patients using mental health facilities are tracked each year in the city and some statistics suggest that the clinics reduced suicides by over 80%.

There have been some criticisms of the system however, despite the reduction in the number of suicides in the city. Critics highlight the fact that many of the poorest and most severely in need of help are not reached as they do not have health insurance and so do not attend those clinics involved in the scheme.

Ultimately, however, the scheme seeks to provide better preventative, coordinated and targeted care to those who are at risk or show some signs of mental health crisis. And some in the UK have suggested there are lessons that could be learned from this approach.

Whole system approach to suicide prevention in the East of England

Four local areas in the East of England (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Essex and Hertfordshire) were selected in 2013 as pathfinder sites to develop new approaches to suicide prevention based in part on the Detroit model.

Since then, Mersey Care, Cambridge and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group and Teesside councils have also become aligned with the programme and are continuing with their approach towards improved suicide prevention. The Centre for Mental Health evaluated the work of some of the sites during 2015.

The evaluation found there were a range of activities that had taken suicide prevention activities out into local communities. They included:

  • training key public service staff such as GPs, police officers, teachers and housing officers
  • training others who may encounter someone at risk of taking their own life, such as pub landlords, coroners, private security staff, faith groups and gym workers
  • creating ‘community champions’ to put local people in control of activities relating to promoting positive mental health and signposting to help services
  • putting in place practical suicide prevention measures in ‘hot spots’ such as bridges and railways
  • working with local newspapers, radio and social media to raise awareness in the wider community
  • supporting safety planning for people at risk of suicide, involving families and carers throughout the process
  • linking with local crisis services to ensure people get speedy access to evidence-based treatments.

However, subsequent research also highlighted some of the challenges. The marketing of the pilots was seen to be damaging and misleading with regards to creating “zero suicide areas”, rather than suicide prevention areas. It has also been suggested that although the campaigns serve to raise publicity and awareness, there is little evidence that the schemes actually reduce the number of suicides in an area any more than “traditional campaigns” to better signpost people to available support.

In addition, many of the projects struggled past the initial implementation stage to have long-term impact, as the buy-in from local GPs and other service professionals was not as high as was expected.

Final thoughts

Widening and improving access to support and services for people at risk of mental ill health or suicide is a big challenge for health and social care professionals. Identifying those people at risk is one of the key barriers and taking inspiration from schemes like those trialled in Detroit is one way for professionals in the UK to adapt their approaches in order to overcome these barriers.

Providing more opportunities for people to get help, and better training for professionals who may come into contact with people with mental illness are some of the ways that current schemes are trying to address mental health and suicide in particular.

However, as many of the evaluative studies from test sites in the UK have found, going beyond that to take mental health into the community, in order to create whole system pathways of care across multiple settings and professions, remains a challenge.

As the London Assembly report pointed out, another key aspect is creating an open environment for people to talk about how they are feeling. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 and the theme is ‘surviving to thriving’ – and emphasising that good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem. Whether in the workplace or in the home; with friends, family or colleagues; it’s important that everyone feels that they have a space where they can talk, and to cultivate resilience and good mental health.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles on mental health in the workplace.

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Delivering the value of planning: new report says stronger planning authorities will create better places

plan drawing

This month, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has published a significant report suggesting ways in which good planning can deliver sustainable economic growth and tackle the country’s housing shortage.

Delivering the Value of Planning argues that properly resourcing councils’ planning teams, improving respect for planners and strengthening their influence, will lead to more and better development.

The challenges facing planners

The report contends that thirty years of almost continual changes in planning policy and regulation, along with cuts to local government budgets, has left the UK “incapable of consistently delivering good quality new places.”

The researchers also express concern about the widespread perception that planners act as a brake on new housing, economic growth and entrepreneurial activity:

Many changes have been informed by the flawed notion that planning has held back an otherwise efficient, self-regulating market that, if increasingly freed from its constraints, would be able to more rapidly deliver development.”

The impact of these challenges on planners themselves may be seen in the results of an RTPI survey, which found that:

  • nearly three-quarters (73%) think that constant changes to planning have hindered their ability to deliver good places;
  • more than half (53%) think that these changes have hindered housing development;
  • nearly 70% think that they are less able to deliver the benefits of planning compared to 10 years ago.

The report’s focus is on England, and the authors note that the policy debate around planning in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has generally been more positive and constructive. But they observe that here too planning in many ways “remains under valued, under resourced and under used as a positive enabler and facilitator for development.”

Where planning works well

Throughout the report, the authors argue that effective and proactive planning can deliver considerable economic, social and environmental benefits for society, including:

  • providing clarity and confidence for investments;
  • improving the quantity and quality of land for development and construction;
  • delivering more and better housing development;
  • lowering the cost of overall development and opening up opportunities for new development.

To demonstrate the contribution of planning to the creation of successful places, the report showcases five award-winning developments in the UK:

  • Cranbrook in East Devon – a new community created by proactive planning set to provide 7,500 homes over the next 20 years;
  • Brindleyplace in Birmingham – an urban renewal development which has preserved the area’s heritage whilst revitalising it to attract new business and leisure uses;
  • Upton in Northampton – a high quality urban extension comprising 1,350 homes, with a commitment to exemplary urban design and environmental sustainability;
  • Norwich Riverside – a large regeneration project which has transformed a former industrial site into a successful major residential, retail and leisure development;
  • Fairfield Park in Bedfordshire – where the local authority has played a crucial role in shaping a high quality, attractive development with a strong sense of community and good facilities.

Rising to the challenge: what needs to be done

Delivering the Value of Planning says there is an urgent need to take stock of the UK’s planning systems, and to debate alternative futures that might produce better results. It advocates three key steps in this direction:

  • planners need to raise greater awareness about how better economic as well as social and environmental outcomes can be delivered through well-planned development;
  • national and local government needs to consider the particular powers, resources and expertise that planning services require;
  • in both research and policy, the value of planning needs to be analysed to understand how its economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised.

The report argues that planning authorities are in a good position to exercise leadership, and to think about places in ways that the private sector often cannot:

  • bringing together agencies, government bodies and service providers, to identify and deliver the best long-term outcomes across different policy areas;
  • setting and enforcing high standards of building design;
  • providing for public and green spaces to enhance the attractiveness of an area to residents, businesses and visitors;
  • removing risks and obstacles to development, such as contaminated land.

In the midst of a national housing shortage, the report calls for a stronger role for public sector-led developments, pointing to examples of good practice in Manchester, Norwich and Birmingham which have delivered more and better housing and development.

Realising the potential of planning

The RTPI report reinforces the planning profession’s strong conviction that planning is a solution, rather than a problem.

 “If the full benefits of planning are truly to be realised, we need reforms that exploit its true potential to reconcile economic, social and environmental challenges through positive and collective action, and which confront those sectoral interests that seek only short-term, self-interested solutions.”


Idox continues to support council planning departments through its land and property solutions.

We are also sponsoring three of the RTPI’s Awards for Research Excellence this year – the Sir Peter Hall award for Wider Engagement, the Planning Consultancy award and the Student award. The results will be announced on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

Digital – making the case for investment within local government

By Steven McGinty

In March, a report by Nesta and the Public Service Transformation Network suggested that local councils could save £14.7 billion by going ‘digital by default’ by 2020, i.e. moving all transactional services online and digitising back office functions.

However, this is not the first report to highlight the potential savings in going digital. In 2015, the Policy Exchange think tank published a report outlining how £10 billion could also be saved by councils by 2020, if they made smarter use of data and technology. Similarly, the Local Government Association (LGA) has published guidance on the benefits of digital technologies for councils, including financial savings.

All these documents make the positive case for digital. Yet, as discussed in a previous blog article, local government is still lagging behind when it comes to implementing new technologies. Jos Creese, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Hampshire County Council and Chair of the Local CIO Council, explains that:

It’s doubtful if any local authority is not making savings from digital investment. The challenge is being able to quantify savings.”

This suggests that if local government is ever going to achieve its ambition of becoming ‘’digital by default’, then attempts must be made to evaluate projects, to develop a strong evidence base, and to share examples of best practice. Below I’ve highlighted some projects which provide a strong case for investment.

Manchester City Council

In 2012, Manchester City Council decided to create a more responsive ‘mobile first’ website that citizens could access from free Wi-Fi spots around the city via smartphones and tablets. The website was developed by an integrated team comprising IT and marketing staff from Manchester City Council, and developers from the supplier. From the beginning, the team reviewed how people interacted with the council, such as how they asked for services and how they reported problems. The website was tested by members of the public, as well as accessibility experts and representatives from organisations representing blind and partially sighted people.

This website redesign has led to Manchester City Council saving £500,000 in the first nine months and winning a European award for website design and functionality.

Nottingham City Council

Nottingham City Council has introduced a workflow management app, replacing 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. Residents are also kept informed via updates, as the progress of the work is linked to the initial order raised.

The council has reported that the app has created £100,000 in savings in less than one year. In addition, the improved monitoring of productivity has led to 40% field efficiency savings and 60% back office savings in the Highways department.

London Borough of Camden

In 2013, the London Borough of Camden introduced a programme to create a single source of residents’ data. The Camden Residents Index (CRI) used a technological solution to match different types of data with individual residents (allowing the council to have a single point of view for each resident’s data).

The CRI has been used for a number of purposes, including detecting fraud and managing the electoral roll. For instance, the index was able to identify 752 council properties that could have been illegally sublet. The council estimated that a quarter of these properties were reclaimed, saving approximately £18,000 per property and £3.4 million in total. The CRI was also able to validate 80% of data from the electoral roll (which is higher than the 50% rate of the Department for Work and Pensions, which usually validates the council’s electoral data). This increased match rate resulted in less manual checking, which saved Camden council £25,000.

Poole County Council

Poole Borough Council has recently moved towards using cloud-based services. They highlighted three main drivers for this change: complying with the Cabinet Office’s Cloud First Directive; improving the agility of services; and making the necessary savings to the information and communications technologies (ICT) budget. The move has already saved the council £60,000; with an additional £750,000 worth of savings possible over the next three years.

Conclusion

Local council leaders may be anxious about making the case for investment, but investing in digital should be considered as a necessity, rather than a luxury, for meeting growing citizen demands with fewer resources.

These are just a few, of the many examples, of how local councils have benefited from digital transformation.


Follow us on Twitter to see the developments in policy and practice currently interesting our research team. 

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our other posts on digital

Supercommuting: is it worth it?

crowd rush on the london tube

By Rebecca Jackson

In recent years there has been a surge in the number of people in the UK being classed as ‘supercommuters’ – people who travel more than 90 minutes to work each day. And figures from the TUC published last week suggest that over 3 million of us now have long daily commutes of two hours or more, a rise of 72% in the last decade.

Rising rent, the London-centric nature of the British economy and the desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance have all been cited as factors which have contributed to this mass commute which millions of us, myself included, go through every day.

Reliance on commuting for ‘better job’ opportunities

In a recent survey it was found that accountants have the longest average commute, at 75 minutes, with IT software developers next at 65 minutes. The shortest average commute belongs to those who work in the retail and leisure industries, who have commute times of between 20-30 minutes respectively.

A recent IPPR report suggested that commuting, or more specifically the lack of ability to commute, was resulting in many job-seekers remaining out of work. As a result, a reliance on commuting for ‘better jobs’ was limiting the growth of the British economy, particularly in areas outside of London.

Commuting, and the resulting inflexibility this gives many jobs, can also be a barrier to many women, particularly those with families or caring responsibilities, taking on roles which are higher paid or higher up the ‘corporate ladder’, including more senior roles in company structures and professions such as accountancy and law.

The costs of supercommuting

So how realistic is a ‘supercommute’ in terms of cost, and in terms of family life and commitments … and is it worth it?

I calculated the cost and time it would take to commute to London from 4 cities: Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Barcelona (I chose Barcelona because I know someone who did it for a year!).

The scenario I used was for an individual who works full time in an office in the City of London, within walking distance of Liverpool Street Station. All prices shown are averages and will fluctuate depending on proximity to amenities, time of booking transport etc. This information also does not take into account the cost of living more generally, food, utilities, socialising etc.

Untitled 2*Average time, without excessive traffic or delays, for flights includes check in and transfer to Liverpool Street
** Northern Irish “Rates” are slightly different to council tax
*** For a 1 month Zone 1-6 Oyster card OR to fly from MAN; EDI; BFS; BCN to STN and get the Express to Liverpool Street, 3 days per week, returning each night.

The figures seem to show that cost wise, it’s true, supercommutes can save you money if travelling means that you can take a higher wage or better job.

Work-life balance

People who supercommute, while grateful for the better lifestyle it gives them and their families on days off, often highlight how long commutes, which often mean significantly longer working days, impact on their relationships, their health and require significantly more commitment and energy from them as individuals than a ‘normal 9-5 job’ would. An individual’s personal well-being can often be hugely affected by extreme commuting times.

Statistics have also shown that people who supercommute, who have a wife or partner who doesn’t commute with them, or doesn’t undertake a similar length of commute of their own, have a higher rate of divorce and/or separation. And those with children reported stressed and difficult relationships with them too.

Studies have also shown that its not all about the money, and that to equate monetary value to distance commuted, you would need to be offered a pay rise of 40% to compensate for the detriment caused in other areas of life by an extra hour’s commute.

Another factor influencing how realistic supercommuting is as an option for employees, is the willingness of the company, and the ability of the job, to be flexible. Many people who are interviewed, or used as successful case examples of supercomputing, work in jobs where they can work remotely for part or all of the time.

And as you can see in my example above, it is based on the understanding that those commuting from outside London are only doing so on a 3 day week basis, with a view that they would work remotely from home on the other two days. Not all jobs can facilitate this, and neither can all employees.

Is it worth it?

Supercommuting can, therefore, be a way to save money, and offer improved quality of life, enabling people to live closer to family or in the countryside. However it comes at a potential cost to social life and relationships, and to personal well-being in terms of physical and mental health.

Sadly it’s not all afternoon strolls or sangria weekends on a beach in Barcelona, although this can be part of it. It takes commitment to the job and the commute itself and a regular reassessment of the question of “is it actually worth it?”

And, unfortunately for many, supercommuting is no longer a choice, but a situation forced on workers by the state of the housing or employment markets.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Donna Gardiner’s post on remote working

Top down ‘devolution’ or a bold new era for local government? An update on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill

By Steven McGinty

On Wednesday 21st October, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill reached the Committee Stage for consideration by the House of Commons. The Bill, which was initially introduced in the House of Lords, provides statutory authority for the devolution of powers to local areas. The Local Government Association (LGA) has described it as an ‘enabling Bill’ – as very few of the policy areas covered in devolution agreements are mentioned.

Yet its technical nature has not deterred debate. Whitehall, local government, and a host of other interested parties have all sought to shape the Bill, and the devolution agenda.

So, what are the main elements of the Bill?  

The Bill makes a number of proposals, including that:

  • Ministers will have to make a statement demonstrating that all new domestic legislation is compatible with the principles of devolution;
  • Elected mayors can be introduced for combined authority areas, and can be given the functions of Police and Crime Commissioners (although this is not mandatory);
  • Powers can be transferred from public body functions to combined authorities;
  • There should be requirements for combined authorities to be scrutinised and audited;
  • Powers should exist to transfer public functions to certain local authorities, and to fast track changes to their government structures.

Which devolution deals have already been agreed?

The Government has received 38 bids, including four from Scotland and Wales. The first devolution deal was the Greater Manchester Agreement on the 3rd November 2014. Since then, a number of other deals have been agreed, including the Sheffield City Region Agreement on Devolution (12th December 2014), the Cornwall Devolution Deal (16 July 2015), and Tees Valley Devolution Agreement (23 October 2015).

However, a number of agreements are still under discussion. For instance, the Liverpool City Region bid is seeking power over a large range of areas, including the creation of a Land Commission and a development corporation, EU structural funds, and retention of business rates. They are also considering introducing an elected mayor.

Elected mayors

The Bill currently before the House of Commons states that elected mayors should not be a condition of further devolution. Nevertheless, the government have linked a full transfer of powers to a directly-elected mayor. In May 2015, the Chancellor, George Osborne, argued that:

It’s right people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes the decisions and carries the can. “

However, in the same speech, the Chancellor also suggested that he would “not impose this model on anyone”.

Some, though, would argue that the Chancellor’s approach is closer to the first statement. For instance, a group of North East MPs have challenged Ministers to “just be honest” and admit that they forced the North East Combined Authority to accept an elected mayor. Interestingly, Durham County Council, a member of the North East Combined Authority, is set to allow residents to vote on the new deal. Yet, even if the public voted against the deal, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill provides that the Communities Secretary has the power to eject a combined authority member, and continue with the deal.

Similarly, it’s been reported that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has explicitly told Suffolk and Norfolk that they would need a directly-elected mayor if they want major powers to be devolved.

The LGA has recently suggested that the government should look to identify alternatives to directly-elected mayors.

Health and social care devolution

During the debates, concerns have been raised over whether devolving health services would mean that health services would no longer be subject to national standards. In the House of Lords, Baroness Williams attempted to clear this up, explaining that services would still be part of the NHS and the social care system and national standards would apply.

However, this led to Lord Warner questioning how ‘devolved’ health services would really be. Chris Ham, Chief Executive of the Kings Fund, also stated that:

The unanswered question is how much freedom public sector leaders will have to depart from national policies in taking greater control of NHS resources.”

He suggested that this issue would need to be worked on.

 Will the Bill bring devolution to English regions?

The great advantage of the Bill is that it provides flexibility for local areas to negotiate their own devolution deal. But, as we have seen from already signed agreements, combined authorities may have to agree to terms that are at odds with the local electorate. For example, in 2012 the electorate of Manchester voted against directly-elected mayors. Yet, a couple years later, they became the first combined authority to sign an agreement with the Chancellor.

Some, however, will say that genuine devolution will only be achieved through devolved finances. This has already started to happen with the Chancellor announcing that local authorities will be able to retain business rates.

Overall, though, the devolution journey has just begun. Each local council will make their own arrangements, and will be answerable to their own electorate. Ultimately, it will be for them to decide through the ballot box whether genuine devolution has been delivered.


The Bill will return for further consideration in the House of Commons on 17 November 2015.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read our other blogs on devolution:

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

Urban cycling innovations: smart cities get on their bikes

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Image by Poom via Creative Commons

A new OECD report has identified cycling as one of the visible signs of a successful city. Although many cities have yet to adapt their infrastructures to accommodate the growing demand for cycle routes, others are finding inventive ways to bring the bike back to town.

Copenhagen’s green wave
The Danish capital’s gold-plated credentials as a cycle-friendly metropolis are clear enough: 41% of its residents commute by bike, using over 1000km of bicycle lanes. With so many cyclists on the streets, Copenhagen has come to learn the value of keeping the traffic flowing. Which is why the city introduced “green waves”, electronic systems that coordinate traffic signals to recognise bikes instead of cars.  Cyclists travelling at a speed of 20km/h find that they hit green lights all the way into the city in the morning, and back again at the evening rush hour. But Copenhagen isn’t resting on its saddle. The city is currently testing Green Wave 2.0, which will detect bicycle users approaching an intersection. If there are five or more cyclists together, the light will stay green until they pass.

London’s cycle superhighways
When it comes to cycling, London is no Copenhagen. Car-clogged streets make cycling in the UK capital difficult and dangerous. Even so, the number of bicycle journeys in London has doubled since 2000, and a 2013 cycling census found bikes making up around a quarter of rush-hour traffic in central London. That figure seems likely to rise further with the advent of two ‘cycle superhighways’. In February, Transport for London approved mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for the new bike routes, which will run east-west, linking Barking to Acton across central London, and north-south between King’s Cross and Elephant and Castle. Dubbed ‘Crossrail for the bike’, the routes are intended to offer riders more protection from other road users, with segregated cycle lanes, improved junctions and dedicated traffic signals.

Arlington’s equitable bike share scheme
The urban bike sharing concept had an unpromising start. When Amsterdam located 50 bikes for hire across the city in 1968, all of them were promptly stolen. But the idea was too good to die and today, from Dublin to Dubai, there are over 500 bike share schemes worldwide.  Almost all such schemes rely on credit or debit card payments, which excludes those citizens who want to hire a bike, but don’t have a credit card or bank account. Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., is trying something different to ensure more inclusive access to bike sharing. Residents who want to use its Capital Bikeshare programme will be able to pay cash for monthly memberships by visiting one of five ‘commuter stores’. To get started, applicants need only present proof of identification and residency and $16 in cash. When a customer’s account goes below $2, they’ll receive a reminder that they need to add more money to their account.

Mexico City’s cycle Sundays
“We love coming out and seeing our beautiful city from the seat of a bicycle, without the fear of death.”

When the mayor of Mexico City introduced the “Muevete en Bici” initiative in 2007, many dismissed it as a political stunt. But now, each Sunday, tens of thousands of residents get on their bikes and take possession of car-free streets, including the capital’s central eight-lane highway. Since being branded a gimmick the scheme has endured, as the city’s environmental secretary told the Washington Post:

“It has been a success. We shattered a myth that a megalopolis like Mexico City is not capable of considering the bike as a means of transport.”

The idea has also found favour elsewhere; during a visit to Jakarta, London’s mayor praised a similar scheme, and suggested it could work in London. But Boris Johnson doesn’t have to look as far as Indonesia or Mexico for a home-grown model: in Bristol, two roads in the city centre are closed to cars on one Sunday each month, as part of Mayor George Ferguson’s Make Sunday Special initiative.

These ideas offer just a flavour of how forward-thinking cities are adapting to the needs of cyclists as part of wider sustainable development strategies.  Other examples include Holland’s solar-powered bike lane, Tokyo’s subterranean bike parks and Manchester’s cycling community initiatives, among many more.

And it’s becoming clear that local authorities don’t have to develop their own urban cycling concepts from scratch, but can, like Bristol, borrow from other cities and adapt ideas to their own circumstances. As far as urban cycling is concerned, innovating is worth imitating.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on cycling and other transport topics, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading

Other resources which you may find interesting (some may only be available to Idox Information Service members):

TfL’s cycle superhighways rewrite the rules on roadspace allocation

International cycling infrastructure best practice study

Factors influencing bike share membership: an analysis of Melbourne and Brisbane

Cycling works: jobs and job creation in the cycling economy

Cycling plans, strategies and design guidelines

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.

Green for go: the rebirth of light rail

tramby James Carson

When Edinburgh’s new tram system opens this week it will be three years overdue and millions of pounds over budget. But, in spite of the delays, spiralling costs and contractual difficulties, the Edinburgh system is joining a wider urban light rail renaissance.

Since the 1990s, municipalities around the world have been investing more in light rail transit systems: Continue reading