In the last twenty years, there has been a series of place-based programmes and initiatives in England. They began as pilots or included a first round in which the approach was tested before being rolled out more widely. While many were evaluated on an individual level, this project aimed to take a step back and synthesise findings from eight programmes in order to draw out relevant lessons for policy makers today.

Our research began with a desk review of policy prospectus and evaluation material for eight programmes. These included Local Public Service Agreements; Local Area Agreements; Total Place; Neighbourhood Community Budgets; City Deals; and Devolution Deals. Then drawing on interviews with practitioners and politicians involved at the time, as well as officer workshops, we identified several messages with resonance today.

The programmes offered participating areas a chance to develop a close relationship with central government in the design and implementation of the concepts. This was greatly valued by the areas involved, with joint posts and joint reviews of evidence leading to a better understanding of local challenges by Whitehall. The challenge is to sustain these benefits and this points to some important lessons.

To be of lasting value the relationships between central government and pilot area must extend beyond a gatekeeper or intermediary role. Both the central and local tier need to pay attention to developing and maintaining the relationship.

For local areas, involvement in national pilots delivers most value if it can align with and ideally be used to accelerate an existing vision – avoiding being a “bolt on” at one step’s remove from the priorities.

Initiatives such as Total Place, in 2009/10, showed that working in partnership works best when there is a strong emphasis on hearing the citizen’s voice. This is best achieved locally, and brings in not just residents, but front line professionals, such as GPs who see pressures at first hand. The opportunity for Whitehall to access this voice should be a driver of future collaboration between central and local government.

Keeping these and other lessons in mind, the report found that pilots provided a ‘creative space’ for innovation. The next challenge is how to push central – local creative space into mainstream business that does not requiring the level of resource typically associated with pilot initiatives.

The full report can be found on the LGA’s website here:  https://www.local.gov.uk/publications/learning-20-years-place-pilots

If you would like to learn more about this project or how the lessons we have identified might apply in your area, tony.blake@sharedintelligence.net would love to hear from you.

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