Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE
Professor Mark Shucksmith is the Director of NISR. Mark writes this blog on the potential of combined authorities following his attendance at the OECD conference in Bologna, Italy 23rd-25th October 2013.
As the North-East prepares to establish a new Combined Authority, covering the seven council areas of Northumberland, Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland from April 2014, what lessons might be learned from experience elsewhere? Last week I attended the OECD’s conference on Rural-Urban Partnerships, which presented lessons learned from case studies in 11 countries around the world. Most interesting were the experiences of Nuremberg in Germany (which I studied as one of OECD’s experts), Geelong in Australia, and Rennes in France.
The OECD report concluded that there are significant advantages to people when local authorities work together, as proposed here in the North-East. These advantages include a greater potential for economic growth; more effective provision of public services; more integrated transport networks; and stronger ability to enable the provision of public goods. But working together to realise these benefits is not easy. According to the report, cooperation appears to be more difficult when the differences in size, resources and capacity between partners are large, or where trust is lacking. Successful cooperation requires leadership; a willingness to work together and build trust; institutional capacity; shared objectives; the involvement of civil society and the private sector; and an understanding of the interdependence of urban and rural areas. The OECD concludes that both urban and rural areas have potential for growth, and socio-economic dynamics do not vary substantially along the urban-rural dimension.
The case of Nuremberg seemed particularly instructive. The motives for cooperation were twofold: to draw down resources from central government; and to promote economic growth across the whole region. A longstanding mistrust between the region’s municipalities had to be overcome, and this was achieved largely through the leadership and vision of the city’s Mayor and by taking things stage by stage. The initial phase has emphasised building trust and shared identity through a series of ‘win-win’ projects and the adoption of a consensus approach. All partners believe a crucial element is that each decision has to be unanimous, embodying a principle of equal representation regardless of a council’s size, population or resources (“each at the same eye-level”). The scope of the cooperation was also clearly defined, avoiding more contentious issues at this stage. The approach seems to be working in fostering growth and developing a more efficient, integrated transport system, as well as in attracting resources from central government and private investment. Even if the partnership does not progress to tackle more difficult issues in further stages, this is still a considerable achievement.
The OECD’s report “Rural-Urban Partnerships: An Integrated Approach to Economic Development” was commissioned by the European Commission to help inform EU policy development. Details of the project and the report can be downloaded. Some of the presentations from last week’s conference are also available online.