Last week I had the privilege of being part of a round-table on Levelling Up run by the University of York and University of Central Lancashire in partnership with the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
The scale of the challenge is immense but one thing is crystal clear: nothing will be achieved without genuine collaboration which effectively transfers knowledge and takes action!
I found it fascinating to reflect on a trend in the previous century of universities becoming somewhat distanced from the place that they are anchored in – is the University of York truly of York, or only happens to be ‘in York’? I have seen over the last couple of years some of the ways in which the University of York, in particular, has engaged with people in the city – for example through its launch of Enterprise Works, a business hub which helps businesses grow and drive social change by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial activity.
Earlier this year I had the privilege of speaking at Northampton University’s Sustainability Summit – again a university engaging directly with business leaders (large and small) and Councillors and council officers in a collaboration that resulted in the Northampton Accord, a framework to now guide future collaboration to achieve mutually agreed sustainability goals.
Place matters and immediately provides a common denominator when diverse groups come together. Working together to face a place’s challenges will always be more productive than each individual group championing their own issue, using their own unique language, and not being fully understood by the other stakeholders.
At the round-table, John Goddard OBE, Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, spoke of the importance of the AND. Levelling up involves the social AND the economic, not one instead of, or indeed even at the expense of, the other. The challenge often lies in effectively navigating that AND – bringing together the different language used, aligning priorities, understanding where one another fit. Asking the question not just ‘what are we good at?’ but ‘what are we good for?’
A starting point like that can really help local government, central government, education, private sector, community, and voluntary groups truly collaborate and any framework that facilitates that is to be applauded. In York, the Good Business Charter, has been a key point of reference around which a diverse group of stakeholders have coalesced – both Universities, York Council, large employers such as Aviva, the FSB and over 80 small businesses and charities. The goal is to continue to establish and grow York’s GBC city status to see more people championed with good employment standards in organisations that also take their obligations towards the planet, their taxes, customers and suppliers seriously.
Levelling up and other aspects of improving living standards provides a reason to collaborate across a range of networks. Agreements, such as Civic Agreements between Universities and Local Authorities, strengthen partner relationships. The Good Business Charter, and other place-based charters, provide a wider framework to then move forwards together in innovative and robust ways. They have much to offer to move from talk to action, from knowledge exchange to knowledge integration.