Local authorities helping innovators
Yesterday, Innovation Unit hosted its tenth Festival of Ideas in partnership with Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership looking at greening public services. In the room, were senior colleagues from local authorities across the Yorkshire and Humber region, social investors who work closely with innovators from the community and voluntary sector and eight innovation projects working to green our public services.
Every time we run a Festival I feel anxious because Festivals are all about conversations – and you never know what the conversations are going to be like. The same morning we woke up to read a newspaper headline that one of the biggest councils in the north-west was planning to cut their budget by 17 percent.
But each time, my faith is restored by the generosity of the participants who share their intelligence, expertise and wisdom with projects embarking on growing their projects to another region – especially in the next couple of years. There has been a great deal of talk about the way in which councils are going to respond to the cuts. Some will shut their doors, make the cuts and deal with the wrath of local citizens as frontline services are inevitably affected. Others will muster some courage and use this opportunity to think about how things can be done differently altogether.
If there was ever evidence of the latter – for me, it was yesterday at our Festival. Senior colleagues from local authorities shared their concerns about cuts and restructuring with innovators in a constructive way – “this is what I’m facing, if you showed me this then it would make your business case much stronger for me”. One colleague who was a Strategic Director and responsible for the sustainability agenda said “I want local suppliers, local jobs and local business involved in this” to an innovator sitting next to her. For many, the economy and environment needed to come as a package for serious consideration.
This Festival of Ideas had particular significance for me. Firstly, it was an indicator that senior management are interested in high-potential innovation from the community and voluntary. Secondly, they are open to dialogue despite cuts – but innovators working to green public services must have a clear understanding of their model, figures and value add in addition to the difference the innovation makes to their carbon footprint. They must also be very clear about their business plan – ambition is good – but local authorities want to hear how you plan to get from one locality to another, not one locality to the rest of the UK. Lastly, my colleague John Craig pointed out at the beginning of the day that often we ask people to leave ‘their professional baggage’ at the door. But – if we don’t understand this ‘baggage’ then how can we collaborate realistically? The intelligence and wisdom that came out of the challenges and concerns that local authorities voiced yesterday was invaluable in helping to shape the ‘offers’ projects put forward to local authorities in the future.
I wouldn’t describe myself an optimistic – but after yesterday – I am feeling optimistic today. We’ll be putting up presentations and videos of projects from the day. So, watch the space.
Really looking forward to our next Festival of Ideas in Newcastle upon Tyne now!
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