Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

London's Team Spirit

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

London's Team Spirit

Article excerpt

Partnership of politics and business is vital to success, says Stephen O'Brien; so is the right sort of mayor, argues Michael Cassidy, overleaf

Partnership is a favourite word of new Labour. In London we are about to see what its potential is in practice, as a new tier of government is constructed, building on the numerous institutional arrangements that have sprung up in the capital since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986.

The origins of partnership are to be found under the last Labour administration. Peter Shore, then environment secretary, visited the US in 1978, and saw how business and the voluntary sector were working together with state and city government to regenerate depressed communities. He decided to see if such novel groupings could be stimulated in Britain, but after the 1979 election it fell to the Conservatives to take the concept forward. It was thus both accidental and enormously significant that partnership was born as a cross-party concept.

By 1981 Business in the Community had been created, as business leaders sought expression for their concern at the social tensions laid bare in that year's inner-city riots. The Thatcher government blamed the hots on left-wing agitators, but businesses began to take the view that as they could not rely on government to protect their interests, they had better become involved; that it was in their shareholders' interest to contribute to easing the tensions caused by poverty. Business then took a lead in establishing a network of 200 local enterprise agencies to provide support and advice to those recently made unemployed who wanted to start their own businesses.

In many ways this was the start of what came to be called the new enterprise culture. An early and significant recruit was the Prince of Wales, who not only established the Prince's Youth Business Trust to fund disadvantaged young people to set up in business, but also became the most articulate and consistent champion of partnership.

From local enterprise agencies, business moved on to establish leadership teams involving the private sector, local government and voluntary groups working together for economic renewal in places as diverse as Halifax, Blackburn and London's East End. Hard lessons were learnt.

Among them was that government could not retain its central grip on the process, seeing business simply as a financial contributor to programmes which could not be funded from the public purse. This did not breed co-operation and commitment. A classic example was City Challenge, which was driven by the funding rules rather than the needs of the local communities it was created to serve.

Useful action has to be rooted in local communities and led by local entrepreneurs, driven by a mix of commercial and social motives. In Londonderry, for example, Paddy Docherty seized an opportunity created by terrorist bombings to train young people in building skills, with the backing of local suppliers.

Partnership succeeds only by identifying common goals and disregarding areas of disagreement. If a partnership can agree a common approach to seven out of ten issues, it should not let the last three inhibit action on the seven. In London getting agreement on the case for Terminal Five, especially between business and local government, has proved impossible, but it has not prevented real progress on issues as diverse as the management of waste and homelessness.

A partnership also quickly ceases to have meaning if one partner dominates. Thames Gateway, an initiative launched from the public sector to promote investment in and the regeneration of east London and along the Thames in Essex and Kent, is belatedly trying to bring the private sector on board. It would have been more effective if all potential partners had been around the table from the start.

This history and experience, together with the void left by the abolition of the GLC, gave business the opportunity to establish London First after the 1992 election. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.