Local authority partnerships in London and the Netherlands

On June 17th, Future of London and the Netherlands School of Public Administration (NSOB) joined forces to explore innovative approaches to public sector partnerships. Our City Hall seminar brought together expert practitioners to discuss this rapidly evolving area, and compare approaches in London, Utrecht and The Hague.

London councils and Dutch municipalities face many similar challenges: as in the UK, the Netherlands was hit badly by the 2008 recession and as a result, local authorities were asked to make savings on a similar level to those in the UK. With the likelihood that budget constraints will continue, local authorities have been looking at new ways of delivering services, often in partnership with third-party organisations.

The Dutch local government system is made up of 418 municipalities, which assume responsibility for urban planning, housing, transport, health and social services, among other policy areas. Local authorities are free to make policy, to the extent that it does not conflict with national legislation.

In both countries, partnerships have become more common as local authorities look to engage with community groups and the private sector to help deliver public services. In the UK, this has been encapsulated by the Localism agenda, explored in our 2013 report, Doing More With Less: How London boroughs are using new powers to navigate budget straits and deliver local services. The Dutch context is examined in NSOB’s 2013 research report, Pop-up public value: Public governance in the context of civic self-organisation.

london partnerships

One approach that has been utilised in both countries is to encourage greater information-sharing among different public services, whether council-run or separate. In Utrecht, for instance, anti-social behaviour was reduced by 65% after a programme was implemented which shared information between the municipality’s public safety team, youth services and the police.

In London, a similar system is used in statutory safety partnerships, which bring together local authorities, the police, and local stakeholders (for example bar owners) to identify areas of concern and address them. This can reduce pressure on other ‘downstream’ services such as hospitals, transport and street cleaning.

Aschwin van Reij, Business Controller at The Hague municipality, showed how the city had cut costs by combining previously separate street enforcement teams (for parking, cleaning, cycling and congestion) under a single department. The new enforcement teams are ‘embedded’ in local police stations and sit in on the same daily briefings, so they have access to more relevant and up-to-date information.

In Utrecht, Jet Smit,Senior Safety Advisor, highlighted the need to maintain co-operation after acute problems had been addressed, while Mark Wiltshire, Head of Regulatory Services & Community Safety at LB Ealing, noted the importance of refreshing partnerships regularly. This ensures that the members of a working group reflect changing priorities and needs; in the Safer Ealing Partnership, this takes place every four years.

This ‘refreshing’ might even mean that the council leaves a partnership where it is no longer needed. For Nnenna Urum-Eke, Housing Regeneration Manager at LB Southwark, successful partnerships should engage with existing community groups and support them through times of change, withdrawing when objectives have been reached and the council is no longer needed.

dutch partnerships

Local authorities in both countries are having to come to terms with different types of responsibilities and different working partners, and this can require changes in authorities’ internal organisation to communicate effectively with people they may not be used to working with. In The Hague, after the recession halted many large housing schemes, the municipality had to adapt to working with multiple self-build projects rather than larger single developments.

René Tap, Financial Transactions Manager at The Hague, showed how the municipality had marketed land differently, provided advice to builders, and reduced the amount of paperwork required in order to enable small-scale housing projects to progress.

In the UK, traditionally risk-averse local authorities are starting to adopt a more enterprising approach to partnerships with the private sector. Andrew Savege, Head of Regeneration at Morgan Sindall, outlined the different types of partnership used for land development in the UK, and noted the trend of British councils taking on more risk in order to have more control over development and a greater share of profits.

The consensus was that Dutch local authorities are less likely to take on risk than their British counterparts, despite the potential to open up new revenue streams. This was illustrated by Adam Driscoll, Infrastructure Planning & Delivery Manager for Re, LB Barnet’s new joint venture with Capita. Re’s goal is to provide planning and regulatory services not just to Barnet, but to other local authorities across the South East, thus providing the council with a new income stream and allowing it to protect jobs in the department.

All participants agreed that the keys to successful partnerships lie in clarity of purpose and mutual benefit. These give partners a sense of what they are working towards, and a reason to stay engaged, which can be especially important when partnerships rely on voluntary engagement. As aims are met or objectives change, the composition of partnerships can be updated so that their members reflect the best way to achieve the goals that have been set.

Speaking at this seminar were:

  • Andrew Savege, Head of Regeneration, Morgan Sindall Investments
  • Mark Wiltshire, Head of Regulatory Services & Community Safety, LB Ealing
  • Adam Driscoll, Infrastructure Planning & Delivery Manager, Re on behalf of LB Barnet
  • Nnenna Urum-Eke, Housing Regeneration Manager, LB Southwark
  • René Tap, Unit Manager, Financial Transactions, The Hague Municipality
  • Jet Smit, Senior Safety Advisor, City of Utrecht
  • Aschwin van Reij, Business Controller, Municipality of The Hague
  • Chair: Lisa Taylor, Director, Future of London

Presentations and audio from the seminar are available below.

Slides: