Centre for Cities Round Table, London

Michael Henson

Associate Director Local Government


Greater than the sum: How can cities make their public assets work for them?

Lord Kerslake: How we can create the strategic capacity for city growth

One of the most experienced figures in national and local government has given detailed insights into how Local Authorities could overcome the hurdles associated with delivering city development during a time of financial constraint.

Lord Kerslake, the former Head of the Home Civil Service and a vastly experienced public sector CEO, came together with the leaders of London Boroughs and development professionals from across the capital to discuss ways in which the capital can unlock its development potential by overcoming financial and organisational hurdles.

The round table was hosted by the Centre for Cities in their offices on Wednesday 11th October and centred on a discussion of the two City Assets reports it has produced with the support of Turner & Townsend and Bevan Brittan. The reports highlight the need for city authorities to treat publicly-owned assets as opportunities to drive comprehensive economic development visions through innovative partnerships rather than simple asset sales.

Hailing the City Assets reports as a “timely initiative”, Lord Kerslake said: “The starting point for me is that it is so obvious now that we need to look at public assets differently and seek collaboration across the public sector.”

Acknowledging the difficulties Local Authorities face in aligning different interests and unlocking the capacity for delivery, Lord Kerslake highlighted the launch of Be First, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham which has been set up to deliver an ambitious regeneration and housing strategy.

He said: “The intended outcome is to regenerate Barking & Dagenham, to build more houses, to create more jobs and to develop a return which goes back to the council over a five to seven-year period. It is the kind approach that might break the cycle of seeing opportunities but being prevented from exploiting them by resource and organisational constraints. This is how we create the strategic capacity to enable all of the things we see as necessary to occur.”

Turner & Townsend, UK Managing Director Advisory Bill McElroy, who sat on the round table’s leadership panel, commented: “When we began the City Assets programme with Centre for Cities a couple of years ago, few of us could have foreseen the scale of the changes that have happened since.

Yet while there is a degree of political distraction, there is also a feeling that we have got to get on with things in our cities and with our Local Authorities and make the most of the opportunities we have. The key to that is engendering collaboration across all the different partners involved.

“That is not always straightforward, but as we have heard from Lord Kerslake at our round table, there is a clear realisation of the importance of collaboration and some exciting evidence that new models are being developed to enable it.”