Most council leaders don’t think of the Prince of Wales when they plan their role. Whether a politician or a chief executive you take office to get things done. The only time you might think about the Prince of Wales is when you need a building or a bypass opened. And even then you would probably prefer the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The Prince of Wales himself admits that he does not do anything. Increasingly he is careful not even to express opinions compared to his early days of environmental nudging and planning interventions if he saw a “carbuncle” of a building he did not like.
But there is one thing he does do, and it’s a role council leaders will be doing a lot more of. He convenes. Convening people and organisations, aiming to make the total greater than the sum of the parts. With the Princes Trust and Business in the Community he has had significant success.
The art of convening is being practiced this week in the North of England where Andy Burnham and the other elected mayors are trying to get a Convention of the North off the ground for the north of England. After all, Scottish devolution was proceeded by the Scottish Constitutional Convention which had its own convener in Canon Kenyon Wright. An ideal figure, able to forgive many transgressions and with the patience of a saint. Where will the north of England find its convener?
Convening has its own big success in more practical terms in commissioning and procurement. The “Preston Model” which saw a very significant shift in spending patterns with an increase from 5% of the procurement pound being spent in Preston to 18.2%. Or an increase of £74.75 million more in 2016/17 into the local Preston economy than in 2012/13. And across Lancashire they say an increase of £199.6 million spent in the local economy. These are really significant economic impacts from the power of convening which every local leader should be following.
This was achieved because the councils convened not only other councils in the area but also the police, universities and colleges to increase changes in their procurement practices. Organisations that are now referred to as Anchor institutions, often the biggest employers and shaping the character of a local area.
In Preston the anchor institutions were convened and mobilised and their total impact was greater than the sum of their parts. It is 10 years since the Lyons Report on Place Making, by the former CEO of Birmingham, Mike Lyons, was published which set off the idea of convening all the main local players and co-ordinating their power in place making. You can see the launch video here and the response of a very youthful Ed Balls MP replying for the government in 2007. It feels more like a tortoise than a hare but suddenly the power of convening is being rediscovered across England and applied in commissioning and procurement.
If other councils can convene and co-ordinate with their anchor institutions locally including the NHS trusts, the police, housing associations, retail and business associations, universities and colleges then huge resources can be mobilise for local growth and social impact.
That one act of convening in Preston has led to a strategic rethinking and reallocation of almost £200 million of spending power across Lancashire. Replicated across England this would amount to billions spent in a more strategic way. This can be a real engine of change but it is not without its challenges, the local businesses need to be convened as they have been in Croydon to bid for work they might not have thought was theirs to have. And there are still legal and procedural and tendering rules.
These will be examined in detail on 27th March in London when a leading group of professionals will be setting out what is possible under the Social Value act, how it is being used from Manchester to Croydon and what difference it can make even in times of austerity.
You should convene a discussion and figure out who from your organisation is going to attend this event or watch the live stream to brief your organisation. Find out more here.
The power of convening is back. Make good use of it.