To the moon and back

By Blair McPherson | 30 July 2020

The challenge was to get a man on the moon and back safely. As it had not been done before it would require some fresh thinking. As it was a complex challenge it would involve bring together a diverse range of specialists, a cross selection of industries and organisations from both the commercial and public sector, a commitment to cooperation and a coordinating structure very different from the traditional hierarchy.

The model is a good one for the post coronavirus world of local government. Of course local government doesn’t have NASA’s open ended budget. 

This may appear to be a radically different way of working for local government but is it? The idea of local authorities identifying the big challenges, challenges so big, so ambitious that no one agency working in isolation could hope to overcome is not new. Job creation and economic regeneration is one such challenge post coronavirus. Everyone benefits if the local economy can be lifted. However just like the moon landing the challenge was not just to get their but return safely so the local economic recovery is not just to tackle unemployment but to ensure that new jobs are secure and fairly paid. 

It soon becomes apparent that tackling unemployment with the aim of encouraging model employers also impacts on other big challenges like community cohesion. It’s no good if sections of the community are left behind, the young or black and minority ethnic groups. 

The big difference post pandemic is that the local authority does not have to come up with all the ideas nor does it have to always take the lead, a tendency that has inhibited collaboration in the past. This is a different type of leadership. Like landing a man on the moon this is a grand project and grand projects of this complexity need many leaders.

Central government needs to play their part, with pay rises for nurses and healthcare workers who tend to live, work and spend locally and sort out fair funding for social care because health and social care tend to be the biggest employers in any locality directly or indirectly.

Further and higher education have a key role to play in this grand project. The local university could act as a brains trust, looking at the bigger picture, bring together different academic disciplines, pooling and disseminating knowledge and best practice, a source of new ideas. Local further education colleges and universities have a role to play in skilling up or reskilling the local workforce. Local businesses across the public and private sector with government funding could offer trainee schemes that employed students whilst on courses and guaranteed a job at the end of the course. For their part students could commit to staying in the local area for three years after qualifying. 

Much of this is already happening but it is not yet the grand project that fires the imagination, inspires a generation and attracts some of the best minds. But if the government would just trust councils and funnel additional funds their way we could have a hundred moon shots. 

Blair McPherson is a former director, author and blogger

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