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Collaborate to unlock the real benefits from devolution

Jason Pavey | 10 Nov 2016 | Comments

It has moved beyond rhetoric to the point of no return. Pace has been swift with six deals already agreed and ratified, and a further ten submitted and pending. So sixteen regions have put aside any political or geospatial differences to collaborate and work together. Seizing the moment to drive decision making and empowerment to a new benchmark.

As for other regions it’s a very mixed picture. In places devolution is acting as a catalyst for potential local government reorganisation and exposing deep lying differences that appear on the surface to be irreparable. Collaboration and seeking to work together across regions in whatever form is now critical to ensure that the benefits and outcomes of devolution are realised.

Newly formed combined authorities are in some ways like start-up companies. Whilst they have a strong history of delivering locally, many authorities now find themselves with the challenge of joining up across combined authority, geographic regions and beyond. This becomes an adaptive change challenge.  It’s not about drawing new organisation charts and setting up processes or working groups. Collaborative behaviours become increasingly important to equip people to work across historic silos; they galvanise and motivate the delivery of transport investment programmes beyond their traditional ‘patch’.  Whilst a challenge, it presents an incredible opportunity to drive real change, establish bestathlete’ and shared services on scales not seen in a generation. To respond to the devolution challenge of delivering growth and closing productivity, and at the same time, address the fiscal challenges authorities face in revenue budget reductions. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Devolved authorities also need to collaborate with other transport authorities, agencies and operators such as Network Rail, Highways England, HS2 and private developers.  Joined up regional transport strategies are becoming ever so important in drawing together investment at local, regional, sub-regional and national levels. Momentum is building in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine in this regard but more must be done to better align local to regional priorities. 

Joining up programmes is particularly important to ensure that we keep our cities and towns moving whilst we build and deliver new infrastructure. Historic approaches to managing disruption on some of our local transport networks, particularly roads, has to change. We need to embrace new ways of working, engage technology and look at how to prioritise investment to drive modal shift and smooth morning and evening peaks. Keeping our cities moving and open for business whilst we build and install the infrastructure the country so desperately needs.

For many regions with devolution deals in place or those to be announced in the autumn statement, the focus must rapidly move from start-up to delivery. Regional transport plans and alignment of programmes is certainly essential and part of the solution. But don’t underestimate the importance of collaborative behaviours in making things work in practice.