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Project skills key to devolution delivery

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The public sector stands on the verge of the biggest constitutional shake-up for many years, as the Government loosens the ties on local government enough to allow incomplete devolution to the cities and regions of England. At the same time, public sector jobs and services will continue to shrink under austerity.

It is a very significant challenge. Local and central government will need to ensure that they have enough staff skilled in partnership building, community engagement and particularly project management. They will need to ensure that the people who will manage the complex change projects needed in the coming years will be supported by the political and officer leadership.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is ambitious about the benefits of what it calls “devo-next”, its campaign to broaden and deepen devolution. It believes that a new devolutionary settlement can “deliver £11 billion in savings for the public purse through radical reform, generate at least £80 billion in growth and 700,000 new jobs, and build half a million new homes.”

But sooner or later, local government should apply itself to the processes it will use to deliver new forms of public and private delivery at a time when much of its time and resource will be spent managing the implementation of significant cuts.

For many years, the most obvious and significant projects in this country have been the ones that involve major and sometimes breath-taking feats of construction and engineering. This country is showing it can really get to grips with delivering major projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail.

It may be that some of the most ambitious projects of the next decade – HS2 aside – will be to deliver the great venture of devolution to the English cities and regions in ways that recast the economy to deliver the jobs, homes and skills this country needs.

So watch this space – project, programme and portfolio management can offer the means to make devolution work as a reality for people, communities and businesses. As a country we will need to invest in the skills of project directors and managers so that the practical delivery of devolution can happen on the scale required.


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  1. Ian Cook
    Ian Cook 06 November 2015, 05:34 PM

    Hi Julian, Thank you for the intersting blog. I would suggest that whilst I agree with your sentiments we should consider that there are many commercial organisations that could also benefit.Why just target the public sector Project Managers and Directors? The mission we should all accept as APM Members or Fellows should be to educate management in all organisations. To succeed we need top down support rather than just bottom up.Perhaps by educating senior management we can reduce poorly defined requirements and scope creep. We might also help them to understand Agile processes to help avoid big bang failures. The public sector is starting to understand it, but further work is required in this area. 

  2. Julian Smith
    Julian Smith 09 November 2015, 10:44 AM

    Ian - I agree with you. There is an opportunity for commercial organisations to benefit from devolution and particularly infrastructure investment but of course the private and nonprofit sectors will be affected by cuts. You make a particularly good point about improving the perception and understanding of project delivery among senior management in the public sector. I hope to come back to that in a future blog.

  3. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 06 November 2015, 08:53 AM

    Hi Julian,I really enjoyed the article and actually wondered whether there could be a stronger call to action to APM members and the wider project management profession.We know that projects and programmes can only really deliver value – i.e. create benefits through users and uses. See my recent blog “What’s your strategy for programme and project management success?” based on the OpenStrategies / PRUB methodology espoused by Dr. Phil Driver.The benefits that are claimed for “devo-next" – this new devolutionary settlement - are massive. What’s not to like about an aspirational strategy that will “deliver” ...- save £11 billion for the public purse through radical reform- generate at least £80 billion in growth- create 700,000 new jobs- build half a million new homes.”For the real impact that this article deserves I would suggest that the LGA devo-next infographic that I discovered on the web should be embedded in the page – perhaps alongside the 69 second YouTube clip My concern is that is we [people] rush around hither and thither and may not spot articles like yours that are important and truly worth investing the time required to process the information.What the Project skills key to devolution delivery article has done for me is to stimulate activity towards greater engagement and participation. In addition, I have begun to organise my own thinking for a possible title and theme for next year’s Benefits Summit #apmbmsummit.Thanks again for a great article. I, personally, am delighted that you have joined the APM and for the insights that you bring.Merv 

  4. Julian Smith
    Julian Smith 09 November 2015, 10:34 AM

    Thanks Merv for these very good pointers and your kind welcome to the APM.