In a previous I raised the question of balancing civil society, market, and state (1). This requires local leaders to consider how citizenship and participation in civil society will develop alongside the imperative to secure public value. Together they need to seek the common good through community engagement within an appropriate authorising environment.
Central to this is a concept of place, which as we know is a slippery subject, together with an ever more pluralist network of interests and provision.
Such complexity requires a nimble and flexible approach which reflects a modular or cellular network. It also needs to be based on whole systems thinking whilst retaining a localist logic. The joint work to achieve local vision will be based upon varying degrees of communication, coordination, collaboration, co-commissioning and combination of organisations.
This pluralist future will blur the edges between state, market and civil society. Or rather, they will become dimensions within which all organisations exist, for they will all contain differing proportions of each. In public service, the mixture will also be of elements or modules of delivery, regulation and local leadership.
Leadership of place should therefore be founded upon on a set of core personal and management competencies, which need developing in a range of people working in partner organisations. These will enable political, non-political and employee leaders to function in a complex environment which demands hard and soft skills in equal measure. A key question here is whether there is, or should be, a fundamental difference between the leadership approaches of politicians, partner organisations and public sector employees.
What has been missing from much recent debate and rhetoric is that such work requires the development of a reinvigorated public service ethos. One which is shared between the public and local partners, and which is built upon mutual respect.
A refreshed public service ethos would transcend public sector powers and duties, the aims and objects of charities or the CSR strategies of responsible businesses. It would be bigger than these, would be nourished by the community efforts of those working in a place, and in turn capture and focus their imagination and work. This notion of shared civic effort and pride links very explicitly to the relationships between electoral and deliberative democracy and between public choice and social capital.
The role of local councils in building this shared public service ethos is not to be the holder of power to itself or the strict regulator of a tight regime. Rather it should be the governor of an authorising environment where public value is secured and risk is managed through a healthy mix of social entrepreneurship and community deliberation.
The best local strategic partnerships have been doing all this for years. They show that the power and leadership they wield are all the more powerful and effective when shared in an environment of trust.