The need for a specific body with a remit dealing initially with local government leadership had been the subject of much debate within the sector since 2002.
That was the year that SOLACE, encouraged by its then president Mike Pitt, put leadership of local government on the agenda for chief executives, and the former local government minister Nick Raynsford set up the Leadership Development Commission (LDC) to review the situation in leadership and leadership development in local government and to put together a national strategy.
In 2003 it recommended that a leadership centre be set up, establishing a steering group made up of the former ODPM, Office of Public Sector Reform, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the Audit Commission, the Local Government Association, the former IDeA and the former Employers Organisation (now both part of the Local Government Association), SOLACE, and the former SOCPO (now PPMA), to agree exactly what it should be asked to do.
Research among senior managers and politicians in local government showed a need for an organisation that could work at the very top of local government, with senior managerial and political teams – as it was strongly felt that only by working with the very top people can fundamental changes take effect.
It was also agreed there was a very real need to address the political dimension of leadership, an area that had previously been comparatively neglected. It was recognised that without the political element to local government it would be impossible to make a difference to people’s lives in keeping with what they wanted and needed – and what’s more, it was acknowledged that the politics itself was in fact what made leading local government such a tough business.
It was felt that an organisation that could also make sense of the complex market of leadership development provision was also required.
The Leadership Centre opened in 2004 with the above remit, funded as part of the former ODPM’s Capacity Building Fund. It started working with its first authorities in the autumn of that year and has to date worked with over 150 authorities in England and their partnerships.
In 2008 the Leadership Centre acquired charitable status and along with the Local Government Association and other local government bodies increased work on supporting, promoting and improving local government and the wider public sector.
With a long tradition of working with places in situ, to improve leadership capacity and partnership working, in 2009 the Leadership Centre galvanized this experience to encourage and support a new way of working across the local public sector with a new initiative, Total Place.
With an ever increasing focus across the public sector, the Leadership Centre also began working on leadership development for the NHS.
The case for effective managerial and political leadership of local government remains as strong as ever. And even more so now, in an increasingly interdependent world so too does the case for public service leadership. Collectively we have shifted our focus to the leadership of people and places, rather than organisational structures. To address the challenges that arise from this shift most of the Leadership Centre’s work now supports managerial and political leaders from across the public sector learn to work together in different ways and continually improve their communities for the better.