Metro Mayors must put philanthropy and civil society centre stage


Category: devoComment

With the election of a new set of metro mayors this year, the devolution agenda is taking shape. As NPC has argued before, the voluntary and community sector has an opportunity to help re-invigorate cities and towns across the six areas. That’s why we’ve joined with DevoConnect for a second year—this time with Barrow Cadbury Trust and Charities Aid Foundation—to explore devolution and what it means for the voluntary sector.

So far, however, debates on the devolution agenda have mainly centred around creating economic growth, and transforming public services. But are we missing a trick? Is there more to making somewhere a good place to live? Civil society has a key role to play, creating social capital, strong civic bonds and an outlet for community action. Moreover, as NPC CEO Dan Corry recently wrote in a pamphlet on the ‘shared society’, these things are crucial underpinnings for successful economies and add to the outcomes that public services can bring.

Philanthropy and community action is therefore an important part of this debate. Of course, historically many of England’s great cities have a tradition of philanthropy in their industrial pasts. But the narrow focus of the devolution agenda emanating from Whitehall is in real danger of missing out this broader place-based approach.

As strenuous efforts are made to rebalance economic growth what can mayors do to create a climate of re-invigorated philanthropy alongside this? Beyond the specific powers these new metro mayors have, they also possess an important convening and influencing role as new figureheads across a place.

NPC explores a related set of questions in our State of the Sector essay series, Flipping the Narrative. Clare Thomas outlines how place-based funders have knitted together networks within local communities to bring new resource, both financial and otherwise, as part of the London’s Giving initiative. Can metro mayors work with local civil society to invigorate similar models?

Neil McInroy from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies writes persuasively in his essay about the need to build a new local social contract, with business and philanthropy playing a key role. The convening role of the metro mayor is a critical part of how this can be achieved.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, which exposed many of the divisions in our society, the question of how those areas that have not prospered in recent years are able to play their full part is paramount. Regeneration can not solely be about economic growth. For people to feel included and places to be reinvigorated there must be a social dimension too.

Ultimately the new metro mayors have a real opportunity to lead this debate, and put civil society and philanthropy centre stage. We hope that these events at the Labour and Conservative conferences will be part of broadening out the conversation on devolution, inspiring some new thinking on how the metro mayors can support their communities to be the best places to live that they can be.


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