Supporting growth through collaboration at Warwickshire County Council

  • Lauren Archer
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Supporting growth through collaboration at Warwickshire County Council

Local Government seems perpetually to be a sector under siege, the last two years has only reinforced this position and in order to survive the next decade, the sector needs to continue its rich history of adapting and innovating, focusing on working with its partners to collaborate for growth. Local government has changed dramatically in recent years – funding of the sector has reduced significantly, resources have been stretched and local authorities will need to continue to innovate to address its funding pressures and growing demand for services. COVID-19 has only exacerbated an already challenging funding environment with resources having to be diverted resulting in challenging financial stability positions growing closer to, or tipping over the edge; an issue that is likely to be long-lasting and far-reaching.

Funding constraints will continue, demand is increasing, assets and infrastructure are under pressure, and customer expectations are higher than ever.

Going forward, emerging economics will dominate global growth, technology will disrupt and globalisation will challenge communities. But local government are ideally placed to build its economic future and engage its communities through collaboration. But how?  In our experience across recent years we have seen a number of approaches employed, and four key themes have emerged as successful initiatives for a number of Councils:

  1. Growth with ambition – setting a clear vision for growth
  2. Lead collaboratively – with empathy and agility
  3. Engage your communities – create value, trust and encourage active citizenship
  4. Embrace innovation – harness new ideas, try new things and promote diversity and curiosity

Warwickshire County Council (WCC) are one such authority who have embraced all of the above, over a series of recent projects that 31ten have supported on.

Growth with ambition

WCC set out a £300m plan for economic recovery and growth in 2021 in response to the pandemic – a ‘highly significant’ measure for the county’s economy, showing commitment and an ambitious and bold strategy for growth.

The £140m Warwickshire Recovery & Investment fund (WRIF), was created to stimulate the County’s economy, create jobs, support local businesses, and bring investment into the county.

Furthermore, the WRIF was launched to support economic recovery with a focus on bolstering existing industries where there are strengths to aid future economic growth.

In addition to this, Warwickshire Property & Development Group (WPDG) has been established to drive regeneration schemes across the County, delivering housing market growth that can support the housing crisis across the County and boost economic growth.

The National Housing Federation’s West Midlands Home Truths 2016/17 report revealed that Warwickshire is one of the most expensive areas to buy a home in the West Midlands, with a shortfall of 45,000 affordable homes across the region.

WPDG’s work will include the provision of significant levels of new affordable and market value homes and a range of commercial, mixed use and renewable energy opportunities across the County.  The County wants to use its land holdings and financial position to step in to supplement and improve on market delivery.

Leading collaboratively

 WCC and WPDG are seeking to deliver this new housing through developing itself through the Company, working with contracting partners as well as working in partnership with the private sector by procuring a long-term strategic JV partner to support them in their development ambitions.  WCC and WPDG will have a joint 50% decision making authority within the JV and are seeking a partner to jointly fund, develop/enable and sell a portfolio of sites across the County.

In this way, the Council is seeking to use its land, powers, and financial position to take a leadership role in driving forward the housing and development agenda and doing this by working collaboratively with expertise from the development market.

The key objectives of the JV include but are not limited to: 

  • Undertaking regeneration and place making activities;
  • Delivering new housing in line with local needs now, and in the future;
  • Undertaking activities that mitigate climate change and promote green infrastructure and sustainable development; and
  • Maximising social value, improving quality of life and promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth

Engaging communities

By creating the WRIF, WCC are investing in local businesses, start-ups and social enterprises as a statement of ambition to stimulate the County’s economy and bring inward investment to the community.

Through its role in the JV, WCC will ensure engagement with communities across the County to ensure development supports local need, both now and in the future, maximising social value through its activities.

Embrace innovation

WCC is showing real innovation in the way it is offering support to the area’s businesses in what will be a key period of recovery.  It is influencing this by addressing a gap that has been identified in the market for access to finance, and by offering loans and other financial investments to existing and new businesses to assist their long term recovery and growth.

WPDG is seeking to act commercially through the development market to further its aspirations.  This innovative approach enables the public sector to work closely with the private sector to use the best skills from each side to deliver shared outcomes such as addressing market failure, delivering housing for local need, and generating returns to enable the Council to deliver its statutory services.

How 31ten has supported these projects

Our work has supported the Council securing approvals to establish the Warwickshire Recovery and Investment Fund.

The Business Case, Business Plan and toolkit has provided the County Council with an agreed approach to operate the fund and a set of proforma documents to use and guide them through the investment decision making process.

As a result of our work, the Council is ready to launch the fund with confidence that the necessary management, governance. and other operational procedures are in place to operate the fund effectively.

In terms of addressing the housing agenda, 31ten led on the preparation of a Business Case exploring opportunities to make the Council better placed to meet its ambitions of the Council Plan through taking a different approach to its land and property.  The preferred option identified through the Business Case was to set up WPDG and also take a collaborative JV approach.

Following approval of the Business Case, we worked in partnership with the Council to prepare a Business Plan for WPDG, which was approved by the Council’s Cabinet in January 2021 and this new property group has now been established.  In addition to this, we are also lead advisor to the Council on the procurement of a JV partner, which has proven to be an exciting opportunity for the developer/investor market and has generated significant interest.  The procurement is currently in dialogue stages.

“Warwickshire County Council has been embarking upon a bold and ambitious strategy to support the County’s post-pandemic economic recovery and the 31ten team has played a crucial role in supporting the County to deliver two key projects at pace.   We have found the 31ten team to have a comprehensive set of skills enabling them to provide us with a broad spectrum of advice on some crucial strategic projects across the Council. 

The team were very quick to understand what we were looking for and how best they can support us on these property and investment projects.  Their knowledge, insights and ability to deliver advice to a wide range of audiences, as well as their significant experience, has been invaluable and they have enthusiastically and effectively driven forward these major projects for the County Council.  We look forward to continuing to work with them on both Warwickshire Recovery & Investment fund and Warwickshire Property & Development Group related projects.”

Rob Powell – Strategic Director for Resources at Warwickshire County Council