Grant Thornton: Place-based growth – the importance of leadership and influence

CCN Blogs | 04 December 2019

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For the past two months we have been working with CCN and its members to better understand the role that county authorities have played, and are playing, in driving place-based growth. The purpose of this work has been to understand the positive interventions and investments made by county authorities and their partners, and to identify the challenges and barriers that are hindering these efforts, and ultimately place-based growth, in county areas. Our report, which will be published in the New Year, will set out clear recommendations for the government – whatever colour they may be – and local leaders around how best to enable and facilitate place-based growth. Growth that enables individual places to flourish.  Growth that reduces the economic and social disparities that exist both within and between different places. Growth that unleashes the potential of County Authorities.

Through our work to date – which has included extensive data analysis, a review of relevant literature and case study research with 10 county authorities – it is clear that, alongside financial investment and statutory duties, county authorities and their partners play a vital place-shaping and place leadership role through the influence that they exert.

It is an influence that generally took at least one of six forms, but was often multiple types of influence:

  • Convenor – County authorities are taking the lead in bringing together different parties and stakeholders to create and then deliver the strategic vision for a place. It is a convening role that is increasingly being formalised through governance structures such as Growth Boards.
  • Facilitator – Closely linked to the convening role, county authorities are facilitating delivery by removing particular barriers to growth. This has generally occurred through local leadership or through strategic investment.
  • Vision-setter – A clear and unified place-based strategy is increasingly seen as important to driving place-based growth. County authorities are increasingly taking the lead role across multiple partners to establish this vision/clarity of purpose. These visions are place as opposed to organisation focused and are taking a longer-term view that seeks to look beyond the short-term financial pressures.
  • Communicator – County authorities often play the lead role in communicating about the place to different stakeholders from: discussions with government around investment, to communicating place-based visions to communities and businesses, to promoting local strengths to inward investors.
  • Capacity creator – County authorities increasingly provide additional capacity around delivery. For some, this is around providing resources – people and time – for others, this is through relationships with personal and political networks of key members. This is particularly important in supporting engagement with central government or to build relationships and consensus across different stakeholders.
  • Seed funder – County authorities are using their limited financial resources to enable strategic leadership, fund projects, release wider opportunities and unlock latent potential. While relatively small sums of money are involved, the catalytic nature of this investment is significantly greater. It helps to unlock private sector investment and provides confidence to the market to aid the commercial viability for key projects.

These different forms of influence are currently underpinning place-based growth at a local level. Regardless of which government is in power post the 12th December, it will be vital that this influence is further enabled and enhanced. This is one of a number of recommendations our report will be making.

Rob Turner

Director, Public Services Advisory

Grant Thornton UK LLP