With the release of the Levelling Up White Paper,1 the Government’s agenda has started to take shape. While arguably light on explicit details and available resources, it continues a trend whereby local bodies lead targeted initiatives to deliver change in their areas.
“System change is not about a string of shiny, but ultimately short-lived, new policy initiatives. It is about root and branch reform of government and governance of the UK. It is about putting power in local hands, armed with the right information and embedded in strong civic institutions.”1
What is clear from the Government’s analysis is that additional funding for more of the same, is not enough to address the systematic issues that cause inequality and disparity across the country. Instead, a mindset and cultural shift is required within public sector institutions. While we await further details on how levelling up will rolled out, local bodies should consider the following.
1. Re-centre how local services are delivered
Organisations will often put themselves at the heart of an ecosystem, looking for ways that their services can be enhanced or used by citizens. Instead, they should put ‘place’ or citizens at the heart of the ecosystem and view their role as part of a larger network of services and needs.
This often requires an organisational shift in culture and behaviours, from ‘what are my services and activities?’ to ‘how am I best placed to contribute to these gaps?’. It also calls for service structure changes, such as a locality model, which brings services together around community needs.
Public sector bodies that effectively demonstrate place-based leadership look across traditional boundaries of education, health and employment, as well as other community services, moving away from a ‘command-and control’ approach to becoming more of a facilitator and enabler. For example, we supported one local authority to move services out of their central council buildings and establish local hubs across the area to provide easier access for citizens.
2. Embrace a citizen-centric approach and agile mindset
Consumer expectations have become truly agnostic across product and service categories. Consumers no longer compare their experiences between two companies in the same sector; they will make comparisons between the experience of a mobile service provider with a best-in-class airline. Public sector bodies need to adopt a similar culture of designing services around the citizen experience, with the agility to iterate and adapt services as needs evolve.
We recently conducted a study into customer-centricity, interviewing over 500 businesses and 2000 consumers across Europe and North America. We found that only 31% of public sector bodies considered customer experience as a key value driver for success (compared to 48% in the private sector).2 Being more citizen-centric drives better service engagement and is more likely to achieve citizen benefits, but this requires more than just a digital front-end. Public bodies should look across the value chain to consider how better outcomes can be achieved. Engaging citizens in the design and review of services is a good place to start, however an increasing number of organisations are looking to change their shape and structure to make evolving services more frictionless.
3. Use impact-focused metrics
The white paper’s 12 missions make it clear that data, and demonstrating benefits, will be key components of the levelling-up agenda. Public bodies need to plan what metrics they truly want to ‘level up’. Measures need to be localised in the immediate context, relevant to issues at hand, and nuanced to ensure genuine benefit for those who need help.
For example, with productivity, if employment is an issue, tracking only pay and employment rates may hide disproportionate salary increases for the wealthy, as opposed to metrics such as household income or even households in fuel poverty. It may also cover up the increase in zero hours and part-time contracts – potentially better than unemployment, but is that sufficient to define levelling up in the area?
Similarly, for broadband, coverage and fast speeds are critical issues in rural areas, but in low-income suburbs, should metrics focus more on high-speed internet uptake, cost and reduced downtime? Targeted metrics like these help focus on appropriate actions; for example, we have worked with housing providers in London to negotiate bulk deals for social housing buildings, providing all tenants with high-speed yet cheap internet access.
Ultimately, levelling up requires more than just deep pockets to have a lasting impact on citizens’ lives, it needs a new way of thinking and working.