A vision of what is to come.

Written by: Pete John is senior consultant at Penna
Published on: 18 May 2023

We have seen an unprecedented change recently in the volume and shape of our work in the local government space and in particular for the place-based roles we are recruiting to. The impact of de-centralised decision making from central government, levelling up more generally, and the shift in the governance of local authority delivery moving to a place-based and integrated health agenda have all contributed to the rise in demand. 

Moreover, combined authority and mayoral models are being increasingly used as a strategic framework to support and resource local government and public service services nationally. However, we still receive a high demand for new hires who can demonstrate a wide knowledge of services, an inclusive and empathetic leadership style and more significantly a truly authentic ability to work effectively in building collaborative and effective partnerships.

Partnerships are certainly key to promoting and delivering an integrated approach to providing public services. For example, we are also seeing an increase in senior roles and chief executive positions that include joint responsibilities for leading and developing local government and integrated care/health and wellbeing boards.

Prospective candidates will also be mindful of the complexity of the partnership arrangements and their ability to operate and sustain effective and complex partnership working. They will need to be confident that their mandate enables them to effectively demonstrate their contribution and leadership credentials, as the ‘partnership map’ has many layers and facets to the leadership and decision making, and ultimately its success.

There are nearly 200 place-based partnerships in England, which primarily cluster around the bigger conurbations and cities with populations of up to 500,000 and generally replicate the local authority and the regional health cluster. These partnerships take a resident-centred, bottom-up approach, allowing for local knowledge and insight to inform service delivery and decision-making, meeting people’s bespoke needs.

The multitude of stakeholders is vast including the National Health Service, Public Health England, local government, voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations and more, who provide a heady mix of interested parties and stakeholders that require careful management and leadership. For example, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been supporting work in Bradford for more than a decade, aiding community understanding and cohesion and providing safe places for debate. It has been recognised for identifying harder to reach communities and taking a lead in strengthening local partnerships.

The objective of the partnerships must also be to deliver community growth and improvement which is a much harder task than people realise.

Subsequent reflections highlighted the need for earlier engagement, as well as the involvement of the wealth of stakeholders from the start. In addition to this, the recognition that further tangible benefits could have been developed through industrialising local action plans could contribute to community growth and improvement. Other regions will be at different points on this journey, and so the skills required will be nuanced and in need of careful consideration when recruiting for new and broadened place-based roles.

The further push to strengthen place-based partnerships working as part of the integration reforms is linked to the 2022 Health and Care Act. The vast majority of more than 40 integrated care boards often opt to adopt a place-based approach to cascade the local partnership delivery of place-based and health improvement initiatives. The joint guidance shared by NHS England and local government, highlighted in Thriving places, further impresses the delegation of roles and responsibilities across organisational boundaries linked to local needs.

These are relatively new models and roles used for broadening the conversation further in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. The number of candidates coming from diverse communities at first seems flush, but the number soon declines. Continuous care is needed to ensure equality of opportunity is available, and to lead these partnerships and truly reflect the community-based and partnership ethos described above.

Authentic partnership working is increasingly more central to the delivery of growth and improvement to our public services, and the sustained health and growth of our communities. The shape of leadership skills and experience required, as well as reflecting the diverse communities they serve, needs careful consideration. This is something we are focused on here at Penna.

So, the perpetual change in partnership governance arrangements and the access to public service services linked to place continues unevenly. It does seem though, that the future of our public services is cast for the near future. The sustained improvements and the development of new service provision models are better delivered through the combination of good thought and national imperatives, driven through community-based local partnerships.

We need to be bold and ambitious in our recruitment strategies if we are to realistically replicate the diversity and new softer skills needed as we progress. 

Pete John is senior consultant at Penna
Pete.john@penna.com