During this same period – and with little fanfare – a
reasonably straight forward and modest scheme called Leading Places was launched. Funded
by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), run in partnership
with Universities UK and the Local
Government Association and facilitated by the Leadership Foundation, the scheme aims to
bring leaders of local councils, universities and other partners in England
closer together to address the economic and social concerns of their local
We are coming to the end of the first phase of the six
pilots in England, which has involved 11 universities across five cities and two
counties (Brighton, Bristol, Coventry, Gloucestershire Manchester, Newcastle
and Warwickshire). The pilots have covered a range of issues, from public
health & wellbeing to making the most of a town or city Mayor.
The scheme aims to respond to the growing emphasis on
bringing the policy focus back to what matters to local people, rather than
some nationwide (or European-level) idea which can often end up being less relevant
to that community. The Leading Places scheme shows that universities are
perfectly positioned to play their part in this new approach to public policy
All six pilot projects will be sharing their outcomes at a free-to-attend
seminar on 28 March at Universities UK and there are still a few places if
anyone would like to attend. To give you a flavour of what is being discussed, I’ll
outline what’s been happening in the Brighton
pilot. What started out as an intention to strengthen the relationship
between Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Brighton and
University of Sussex, has turned into something incredibly wide-ranging.
According to colleagues, engagement between the City Council
and the two universities was always a bit ad-hoc. Over the past year, however,
the two universities have become increasingly engaged with the council – to the
extent that they are now involved in the governance of the city region.
The focus was originally on caring for the elderly which,
among other things, involved students advising the elderly on issues such as
medicine management and care techniques. The project has gone way beyond that
in such a short space of time, with the Council now drawing on the range of
expertise within the two universities – covering traffic management, health
& social care and the environment.
Universities are always looking to make sure that what they
deliver on campus meets the needs of students, the local area and its
employers. The Leading Places scheme has helped here too. According the
University of Brighton, they train nearly 5,000 allied health professionals
every year. By working more closely with the City Council, they now have
up-to-date information on what the issues are in the city, which has informed
what’s taught in the classroom.
What made the difference in all of this? I think that one of
the key factors was a proper dialogue between the people at the top of the
organisations involved. Without this ‘buy-in’, I’m not sure it would have
worked to the extent it has.
The Leading Places scheme has shown just how communities can
benefit when universities, councils and other partners work together on projects
aligned with the priorities of the local area.
It is exactly the kind of initiative the government should support as it
develops its plans for English devolution, the industrial strategy and Brexit,
among other things.