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Public-private working: creating partnerships that deliver

As public-private partnerships rise in demand, particularly for urban renewal projects, Andrew Savege talks through what makes them work

We all have a different idea of what a meaningful community might look like, but everybody recognises that good places go far beyond bricks and mortar.

They need high quality housing, employment opportunities which stimulate the economy locally and further afield, built-in cultural and educational opportunities for the whole population and an emphasis on personal wellbeing.

However, years of austerity have left local authorities squeezed. Funding cuts have reached 40% since 2010 and building places with all of the above is no easy task.

Time and time again we are reminded of the ongoing property crisis, but when these cuts are implemented, housing, community and healthcare facilities are often the first to go. As such, local authorities can find it more difficult to encourage local growth and meet the needs of their population, and feel like the solution is out of their control.

Rising demand for public-private partnerships
In response, enterprising councils are increasingly exploring how to maximise land and other assets in ways that deliver better financial returns on their investments. However, the current climate means there is an increased measure of risk involved in securing a positive outcome, and some councils might feel they lack the expertise required.

There is a clear and growing role for businesses to play in optimising local authorities’ financial returns and supporting them in developing a more commercial mindset. No, public-private joint working is not a groundbreaking approach to enacting change, but we’re witnessing a rising demand for formalised partnerships between the two.

‘The merger of commercial expertise with a local authority’s knowledge

of community leads to regeneration which is greater than the sum of its parts’

This is particularly true in the case of large-scale urban renewal. Councils want to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives, while private developers have a growing responsibility to deliver regeneration which retains and enhances the character of a community and is at once cohesive, welcoming and universal.

The benefits to both parties are clear. The merger of commercial expertise with a local authority’s detailed knowledge of what its community needs ultimately leads to regeneration which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Partnerships need hard work and compromise
We’ve put this into practice in our largest joint venture programmes, Slough Urban Renewal and the Bournemouth Development Company, both of which operate in a 50:50 structure in tandem with the respective local authority. The councils can draw on our private sector finance, resource and experience – improving their own efficiency – and reinvest their share of the profits into the community in ways they know will complement the objectives of the regeneration, such as public realm, transport infrastructure and leisure facilities.

Both programmes have a dedicated board, with equal representation from the public and private sides. Each board regularly reviews the bespoke partnership business plan, ensuring it continues to provide clear direction and security for the partnership and encompasses the joint vision, ethos and objectives which drive it forward.

Meanwhile, a shared masterplan allows the development focus to move beyond housing to community infrastructure which supports the general wellbeing of residents and visitors.

Last year, for example, Slough Urban Renewal completed a £22m cultural centre known as The Curve. Its library, theatre, performance spaces and other civic uses are a significant contribution to Slough’s £35m leisure strategy, which aims to see ‘more people, more active, more often’.

In the first week following its opening last September, 5,000 library books were loaned, in comparison to 11,000 for the whole of July at the Old Library. The urban renewal programme has also employed a community relations officer to ensure there is a dedicated presence on the ground, helping to drive the positive regeneration which can be delivered when partnerships centre on people.

Housing and urban renewal aren’t the only beneficiaries of these formal joint ventures. We’re putting the experience gained in Slough and Bournemouth to good use through similar partnerships with a number of NHS Foundation Trusts, including Oxleas in south east London. Our work there will help optimise the trust’s estate and develop surplus assets, helping to reduce costs, ease pressure on stretched services, and maximise revenue which can be reinvested into healthcare delivery.

Of course, all partnerships have obstacles to overcome. Long-term joint ventures must weather local and central political cycles, economic upheaval and changes to staffing or funding, all of which can have an impact on short-term goals.

However, by sharing and understanding each others’ perspectives and aspirations these joint ventures mean councils can take on additional risk and create the conditions for the business to thrive, all the while more efficiently delivering on local and political priorities.

To achieve equilibrium means both sides must be open, honest and transparent with each other, or they risk failing to deliver their objectives. Successful partnerships take hard work, compromise and an ability to listen, and it’s these which best make a lasting positive impact on the communities they work in.

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