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President's Blog February 2018

Date: 5/2/2018

Last month I was pleased to be asked to speak at a Planning Futures event in order to discuss 'Leadership in Planning'. In framing the debate Planning Futures outlined that effective leadership has been consistently cited by planning stakeholders as being one of the most important factors in running a public sector planning service. Similarly many commentators also contend that strategic leadership from both Members and Officers within local authorities is central to delivery through the planning system.

Anna Rose, who was last year's POS President and is now the Head of the Planning Advisory Service, was the other contributor to the debate. Anna opened the debate and she looked to focus upon the philosophical attributes of leadership including the need for future visioning, the requirement for responsive communication and the appropriate taking of responsibility.

In responding, on perhaps more of a practical level, I initially looked to set the context for the consideration of the current leadership issues within the public sector by emphatically reminding the audience that 'planning' is something that really matters because it affects people and the places that they care about.

Related to that one of the obvious on-going major challenges is the fact that quality positive outcomes can potentially take time to come to fruition and to be appropriately delivered. Within that timeframe the nature of our current four and five year long local and national political cycles can obviously challenge the need for the required longer-term strategic commitment as opposed to short termism. In light of that I really do consider that Elected Members who can now make those difficult decisions for the longer-term benefit of their communities deserve our respect and support.

Additionally there is the undeniable fact that the available public sector planning service resources have been dramatically reduced over time and especially in more recent years. Indeed Planning Futures December 2017 report 'Delivering the Planning Service We Need: Building Planning Department Capacity' has provided evidence to demonstrate that on average local authority planning departments had lost 15% of their staff resource since 2006. This is also evident in the fact that highly experienced and capable senior planners are both very hard to find and then extremely difficult to retain.

Having set that context I went on to outline what I considered to be the essential leadership responses. Firstly I contended that it is fundamental that local authorities seek to have leaders in place, both at the Senior Member and Officer levels, who can understand that it is essential to be able to take that longer view regarding the creation of quality places because such change cannot be instantly delivered. To do that we all need to be able to make the necessary commitment.

Secondly because of the continuing and forever expanding complexity of the planning and development process it is also essential that Local Authority Elected Members can have an appropriate and relevant understanding of how the 'Development Industry' actually works. A degree of enhanced understanding allows for an appreciation of the inevitable compromises that need to be made on all sides in order to deliver the best possible outcomes.

Thirdly Members also need to have a clear understanding of how sustainable growth will increasingly become vital for the future financial wellbeing of every Local Authority. With the demise of all Governmental grant support from 2019 every local authority will be increasingly reliant upon building up its business rate base and being rewarded for supporting additional local housing delivery.

Finally in terms of specific planning service staffing issues there is a real challenge in terms of the ability of local authorities to develop and retain 'Planners' with the necessary expertise and the required essential experience. POS acknowledges this as being of paramount importance and it is doing whatever it can in order to support the continuing professional development of our membership. As such I'm proud that POS's free regional workshops initiative has been such a success with many participants telling me that, because of the funding situations within their authorities, they could now only access such events.

So between us I think that our contributions encouraged a lively debate from the floor with many participants endorsing the need for enhanced Member training and on-going support in order to help increase their appreciation of often complex development issues.

In conclusion I think that Anna and I helped to set out a clear case for positive and proactive leadership within planning services across all of the public sector. Let's all make sure that we try to take those ideas to heart in order to help make our communities better places.

Steve Ingram, President 2017/18

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