This is certainly in the mind of the largest local authority in Europe here in Birmingham, as it completes consultations on its budget for the future and tries to deflect past criticism that it does not work well in partnerships. It is also paramount as moves abound to create and grow Combined Authorities, Midland Engines, LEPs and Growth Hubs.
For me, the experiences of Alice in Wonderland come to mind here. The world seems to be turning ‘curiouser and curiouser‘!
On the one hand it appears that national Government is very keen to devolve responsibility to others - and of course reduce funding. On the other, it seems to be taking decisions that are making it harder for any partnerships to exist or flourish. A prime example is the establishment of Growth Hubs over 24 months, with the national Business Growth Service positioned as the main service for signposting businesses to support, followed a sudden announcement that this was to be scrapped. No consultation, evaluation or partnership-working involved! Regrettably, this same approach is also being applied to many Regional Growth Fund schemes.
One plus factor in this scenario could be that, although there will be far less funding available in future to provide support to businesses, if national Government removes itself from partnerships we may see a longer term approach emerging with more thought and consideration given to the impact of both what is provided and the consequences of removing it.
Let’s hope that future partnerships can spend more time delivering successful support, which really boosts businesses and the local economy, than chasing round trying to grab a share of dwindling funds or continually re-structuring how support is delivered. Now there’s a challenging resolution for 2016!
Steve Walker, ART Business Loans
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