So, the Party Conference season is now over with Liverpool and Manchester returning to business as usual.
As the chairs are stacked away and the delegates back in their offices, as RLB’s Head of Public & Civic, I have been reflecting on what were the key outcomes for those in the public sector and the impact on the built environment.
We all know the party conferences are an opportunity for politicians to set out their stall, but far more than that, they are about rhetoric, the headlines they can create and of course, ultimately winning votes. What is clear to all of us working in the public sector arena is that to really change the landscape of public sector services, we need an apolitical approach both to future strategy and investment that stretches past whatever party is in power.
The loudest sentiment coming from the public sector right now, regardless of the promises, regardless of whatever colour party they come from, is the challenge of funding projects and the lack of money in the pot. This of course is nothing new, and something that I alongside some of my RLB colleagues discussed at the Government Property Conference 2023, around the theme of “growing the money tree”. It was precisely this issue that we were looking to address – how local authorities and other public sector stakeholders understand the funds available, access them and spend the money from the funds to generate the maximise impact in their communities. One of my colleagues, our Head of Place and Community, Gretta Starks is currently supporting Hyndburn Council by acting as a their Programme Director doing exactly this – working with the local team to support their project, budgeting and financial decision making to ensure maximum benefit for local people.
We understand the challenges ahead for public estate managers – an ageing infrastructure, the desire and drive to decarbonise, wanting to add value to their local communities while adhering to national governance amongst others. However, having an optimisation partner can bring the expertise and the experience to help identify how to prioritise these challenges and bring solutions and identify funding, look to access it, and make the most of it. Of course, for many it is not just around optimising their building assets, but the green spaces around those assets, their people and often their communities, and if appropriate, how to work with the private sector within their communities to help enhance those assets.
One such initiative that we are supporting various public sector clients within the environmental arena is the National Infrastructure Bank, a public/private partnership, launched in June 2021. Looking to provide £22bn to finance a green industrial revolution and drive growth across the country, local authorities and public sector departments that are looking to improve the sustainability of their infrastructure through green initiatives – whether that be social, economic, or otherwise – qualify. Other great examples where the RLB team has been working alongside public sector clients on projects that have been activated through funding available are in Basildon, Essex and Bexhill, East Sussex. The RLB team supported Basildon Town Council to optimise a previously unoccupied retail space by repurposing it into a new creative campus for screen and immersive digital industries, aligning with the local technical college as well as the wider community, funded by the National Lottery’s Great Places Scheme. Further south in Bexhill, the RLB team was instructed as project managers for the refurbishment and extension of the iconic Grade 1 listed, De La Warr Pavilion that saw investment from the Funding for Levelling Up.
We realise that like the pledges made at the recent party conferences, change will not happen overnight. Nevertheless, there are incremental steps we can take to help optimise our estates, stretch the budgets currently held and untap pockets of funding that are out there to help maintain and improve our public estates. Surely, this should be the direction of travel, whatever the decision come the next General Election.