Posts Tagged 'local government'

Southgate offers solutions for local leadership

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

By Robin Hambleton

Originally published by Local Government Chronicle on 12 July 2018.

The disappointment of England losing the World Cup semi-final to Croatia last week does not undermine the fact that Gareth Southgate has raised the bar for international football management.


His calm and self-effacing manner, coupled with his inspirational leadership, has won admiration from football fans in many countries.

Here in England Southgate has become an enormously popular public figure. His influence already extends well beyond the world of sport, not least because of the rapid expansion of the hilarious Twitter movement ‘GarethSouthgateWould’, which provides hundreds of amusing suggestions on ‘What Gareth would do’ in all manner of situations.

Can we draw any lessons for local leadership from the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership and management?

Some will answer ‘no’. They will argue that managing a national football team is entirely different from exercising effective place-based leadership. For a start the overall objectives of leadership are far more straightforward in sports management. The metrics for measuring success are pretty clear – basically adhere to the rules of the game and win against opponents.

In contrast, local leaders are required to pursue multiple objectives and respond creatively to a wide range of expectations and pressures. The metrics for measuring performance are contested and power struggles between competing interests are endemic. Moreover, different interests will disagree over whether a given policy outcome is good, bad or indifferent.

“I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.”

Notwithstanding these important differences I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.

First, his leadership style is collaborative. Fabio Capello, England manager from 2008-2012, was, for sure, previously an exceptionally talented footballer and a successful club coach. But his leadership approach was very top-down. Indeed, he had a reputation as a disciplinarian and was criticised for not allowing his senior players to have tactical input. As England manager he was less than successful.

The leadership approach adopted by Gareth Southgate could hardly be more different. He is very strong on listening and on motivating the whole squad, coaches and staff.

For example, in interviews he almost invariably refers to the important contribution of players in the squad who have not appeared on the pitch, explaining that their solid commitment to work on the training ground enables whoever ends up playing for England to be better than they otherwise would have been.

Second, Southgate is emotionally intelligent. He understands that leadership is first and foremost about feelings, and he recognises that successful leaders need to make an emotional connection. His leadership approach has shown that if people are respected and feel valued they can perform at an unprecedented level.

“His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity.”

His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity. In interviews and discussion he demonstrates not only his advanced tactical knowledge of football but, just as important, he comes across as warm, light hearted and liberating.

It is possible that you could say the same about Sven-Goran Erikkson, England manager from 2002-2006. While the Swedish manager was always courteous and friendly, he was criticised for being unenthusiastic on the touchline. His deliberate ‘ice cool Sven’ body language backfired.

In contrast, Southgate knows when to damp down the feelings on the touchline. But he also knows that it is important for the manager to let it all out when the team does well. Southgate is certainly soft-spoken but he can also shout very loudly when the occasion demands.

Third, Southgate recognises that effective leaders do not simply focus on the leadership of their own organisation. In more than one interview he has noted how proud he is to be “part of a team that has a chance to affect things that are bigger than football”.

By his squad and team selections, as well as through his personal leadership style, Southgate is contributing to the national debate about what it means to be English in 2018. It would be misguided to believe that a successful multi-ethnic national football team can put an end to racism in any given society, but sport can play a role in shaping national feelings of identity. Southgate is very aware of this and believes that football can play a role in uniting people.

“My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. “

My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. This definition draws attention to how people feel, and it emphasises the collective construction of common purpose.

Many political and managerial leaders in local government now recognise the importance of the three ‘Southgate approach’ criteria. They are committed to collaboration; they are emotionally intelligent; and they are fully aware of the larger purposes guiding their leadership efforts.

My suggestion is that even the most accomplished place-based leaders can learn from studying how Gareth Southgate leads the English national football team.


Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Feature Image by Антон Зайцев, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Oldham west by election: Why do local politicians want to win national office?

With the Oldham west by-election looming today’s guest blogger Simon Parker asks what the future holds for England’s regional politics?

Simon ParkerOldham west is rapidly becoming one of those totemic by-elections that will be quoted by political historians for years to come. Will a crumbling UKIP machine be able to beat Corbyn’s Labour? But behind the headlines another, more human, story is playing out. It tells us a lot about the future of England’s regional politics.

The Labour candidate is Jim McMahon, the extraordinary leader of Oldham council. He is following in the footsteps of many a local government leader and taking his shot at the bright lights of London. In our centralised political system, this path is so well-trodden that we barely stop to ask why local politicians should want to win national office. Parliament is just better than running a council, right?

Making a real difference

Well maybe not. As leader of Oldham, McMahon can make a real difference. He commands a talented and innovative organisation that is successfully integrating its services with local health, fire and police while setting up radical new initiatives such as a white goods store to help local people avoid expensive consumer credit.

“You could describe his style as civic republicanism…a hugely attractive style of politics in our jaded age”

McMahon is undeniably a Labour politician, but he is something else as well. You could describe his style as civic republicanism: a concern to understand and deliver whatever serves the common good locally, with little regard to party political shibboleths. It is a hugely attractive style of politics in our jaded age, and with devolution coming to Greater Manchester it would have put McMahon in a prime position of influence in the city, perhaps even offering him a shot at the new mayoralty in 2017.

Hopelessly remote

Compare this to the reality of today’s Westminster. McMahon is trying to trade real power and influence for what is likely to be at least a decade of opposition in parliament. Even when Labour does win power again, many former council leaders will find that anything less than a position as secretary of state can be a disappointment. Local government offers a direct chance to change people’s lives, whereas life in Westminster can feel hopelessly remote.

“Take David Blunkett, the firebrand leader of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire in the 1980s turned arch-centralist by years in parliament”

McMahon’s powerful but softly spoken politics deserves to find a home amidst all the shouting and ideology of Westminster, but it is all too easy for the ideals of a civic republican to get lost in the posturing of the bubble, their devolutionary radicalism blunted by party loyalty and political convenience. Take David Blunkett, the firebrand leader of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire in the 1980s turned arch-centralist by years in parliament.

Jim McMahon is exactly the sort of person any voter should want to see in parliament: a man who recognises that power is only worthwhile when put in the hands of ordinary people, making it possible for them to lead better lives. But if he wins, his challenge will be to change the system before it can change him.

Taking power back [FC]Simon Parker’s new book Taking Power Back is available to purchase here  from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

What is the ethical purpose of local government?

Ines Newman shares her thoughts on the ethical purpose of government

Ines Newman shares her thoughts on the ethical purpose of government

Ines Newman’s book Reclaiming local Democracy published in May.  At a launch in London on 10 June politicians, media commentators and the public debated some of the key issues covered in the book.  Ines Newman tells us more in her guest blog.

I wrote ‘Reclaiming local democracy’ because I want to generate a challenging debate on the ethical purpose of local government as well as more interest in local democracy. Brilliantly, that’s exactly what happened at the launch of the book earlier this month. Local vs central, financial independence and moving the agenda on from ‘what works’ to ‘what should an ethical local government do’ were all hotly debated.

Panel of speakers at Reclaiming local democracy book launch June, London

Panel of speakers at Reclaiming local democracy book launch June, London

Contributing editor to the Guardian’s Public Leaders Network, David Walker, raised the issue of a ‘postcode lottery’ if councils deliver different services in different areas. If, on the other hand, local authorities have an obligation to meet basic human need how can this provide scope for local decision-making? Such questions go to the heart of central/local relationships.

The basic human need for shelter places an obligation on governments to provide housing. But the form of the built environment and the variety of households in each area requires a discussion in each local authority area, involving residents, around what type of housing should be built and where.

My concern is how the local can influence the national

"I believe the central/local debate is misframed"

“I believe the central/local debate is misframed”

I believe that the central/local debate is ‘misframed’. We will always need strong central government to promote equality and facilitate redistribution. The question, therefore, is not just about which services should be devolved to local government.  More significantly, it is about how local government, together with local social movements, can help define basic human needs and rights at both national and local levels.  So my concern is how the local can influence the national. I see the Localism Act 2011, with its financial control of local government and minor devolution, as ‘hollow’ localism.

Financial independence

The lack of financial independence led to a debate on council tax. Council tax is highly regressive and has been made worse by its devolution to local government with reduced funding. This has resulted in many of the poorest households facing the highest cut in their living standards ever imposed by a government, as they now have to pay the ‘new poll tax’.

Hilary Benn shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Hilary Benn shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government engrossed in Reclaiming Local Democracy

I believe that if politicians have the ability to right an injustice, they should do just that. Hilary Benn, the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, raised the political difficulties that will be caused by the protests from those who will lose out. Another contributor suggested that it was therefore essential for council tax reform to be in a party manifesto so that the democratic mandate could be used to support implementation. I would like to see local councillors campaigning now on council tax reform, to ensure the voice of poorer residents is heard against the more powerful, affluent residents whose interests are threatened. This is precisely where the local should be influencing the national, so we can develop a fair tax base for local government.

Ethical approach

In the book I argue that we need to move the agenda from ‘What works?’ to ‘What should an ethical local government do?’ Hilary Benn argued that these two questions are not necessarily in conflict and I agree with him. I believe the problem with the ‘What works?’ question is that it is usually asked in relation to a narrow output target which may fail to address the causes of the problem. The ‘best’ solution can then be determined by an expert. If such a methodology is to be combined with an ethical approach, the political questions should take priority. By providing a clear set of questions to ask in relation to the ethical implications of policy decisions, the book aims to support the political process and councillors who want to make a difference.

It’s great that the book has started to generate a debate. The green shoots of a new revival in local democracy are evident and I welcome feedback on the themes both of the debate and the book in general.

Reclaiming Local DemocracyReclaiming local democracy is available at a special discount rate on the Policy Press website.  Get involved in the debate by encouraging your local library to order a copy! 

DEBATE: Is it time to put the dream of elected mayors to bed?

The Policy & Politics Blog features debates from recent issues. An extract is below, then please click on the link at the end to download the full article. Policy & Politics is the leading journal in the field of public policy with an enviable reputation for publishing peer-reviewed papers of the highest quality .

Policy & Politics Debates, October 2012

Alex Marsh

In May 2012, ten of England’s major urban local authorities held referendums on moving to a model of governance focused on a directly elected mayor. Only one city – Bristol – voted in favour. Elsewhere the proposal was rejected relatively decisively, albeit with a generally low voter turnout.

David Cameron’s coalition government has emphasised large urban areas as drivers of economic growth. It has championed elected mayors as the mechanism for delivering the leadership necessary to capitalise on the potential of our cities. The outcome of the referendum therefore represents a significant setback.

May’s referendums are only the latest instalment in this saga. The leitmotif is central government enthusiasm finding limited resonance at local level. Given that we have had several unsuccessful attempts to (re)invigorate the idea of elected mayors for England, is it now time to put the idea to bed?

Read the rest of this article by downloading the pdf (free).

Policy & Politics: The practicalities of participation and deliberation

History may come to define the current UK coalition Government as the government that ushered in the end of the welfare state as we know it. The government that forced through a fundamental reconfiguration of the relationship between the citizen and the state. It may well turn out that the British population like the principle of firm action to address the state’s fiscal problems rather more than they like the practice. That story is yet to play out fully.

A more positive aspect of the current political agenda is the emphasis upon localism and involvement. The government aims to move power out of Whitehall and down to localities, giving local elected representatives and communities more scope to determine their own future. The two parties that comprise the current Con-Dem government may value this policy direction for different reasons. Are we talking about a vision of state withdrawal and survival of the fittest? Or a more positive vision of enhancing social cohesion and commonality of purpose in the more fragmented and networked Big Society? It is difficult to identify a consistent narrative. But the parties’ interests intersect and we are expecting Localism bill to be laid before Parliament next month.

While greater local autonomy and accountability in decision making is laudable, it is not without problems. What are the practicalities of delivering on this agenda? Is it another case of something that many feel is fine in theory but less palatable in practice?

Much has been written about participation and deliberation in policy making. Much has been written about the challenges facing those seeking make it a reality. The news is, generally, not encouraging. This is well-trodden ground.

One aspect of the issue which requires greater exploration is how changing structures of governance interact with mechanisms to enhance participation and local deliberation. In a paper forthcoming in Policy & Politics Robert Hoppe addresses precisely this question.

The paper aims to provide some theoretical reflections on the links between policy problems, the structure of policy networks and appropriate mechanisms for deliberation. It focuses on the practical ‘perplexities’ and dilemmas in running deliberative projects, highlight problems at each of the input, throughput and output/outcome stages.

Equally importantly in the current context, the author pinpoints power – or the ‘ironies of real power politics’ – as at the heart of the issue. Participation mandated from the centre runs the risk of simply being seen as a supplement to existing processes, without significantly altering the locus of control. While deliberation from the bottom -up runs the risk of colliding with the self-identity of those at the centre who see themselves as having the legitimacy to make the decisions.

The author holds out some hope that governance structures can be nudged in the direction of accommodating the views of a wider range of stakeholder and citizens. But there remains a tension between peaceful, collective “puzzling” over what do to and the ‘competitive and potentially violent mode of political interaction’ that is “powering”. A timely reminder of the complexity of the challenges in realising the potential of deliberation – and a suggestion that some of the more far-reaching aspirations for deliberation may be over-reaching in the face of the unavoidable subtle, and not so subtle, uses of power.

Hoppe, R. (2010) Institutional constraints and practical problems in deliberative and participatory policy making, Policy & Politics, fast track article.*

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics

* Fast track articles are only available to subscribers. If you’d like to read this article, why not sign up for a free trial at

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates


Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

%d bloggers like this: