Last month a visiting party of academics from the Local Public Policy and Human Resource Research Centre (LORC), Ryukoku University, Japan, met with council officers at the London Borough of Sutton to discuss the work of the Sutton Partnership in challenging climate change and promoting local sustainability.
The meeting which took place at Bioregional’s offices in Hackbridge, Sutton, provided an opportunity for a lively discussion about Sutton’s approach, its successes and the challenges it faces. John Craig-Sharples (Head of Policy) and Chris Reid (Head of Environmental Sustainability) outlined how the Sutton Partnership brings together all the key people and organisations in the borough and focuses activities on shared priorities.
John explained how the borough is using Government funding to carry out a range of partnership projects which are linked to Local Area Agreement targets and the borough’s One Planet Living commitments. In this way the Sutton Partnership is actively involved with promoting healthy eating, participation in sport, tackling childhood obesity and mitigating the effects of climate change.
The research team, led by Professor Katsutaka Shiraishi of Ryukoku University, also visited Camden and Islington while in London. The LORC has recognised the UK experience on local governance reform in recent years as ideal “learning material” for Japan, where similar challenges have been tackled. While the team was impressed by the innovative structures and processes associated with Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements, it also found that some aspects of the arrangements are time-consuming and complex and identified a need for some streamlining.
At Sutton, John Craig-Sharples suggested that the new Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) process may have re-inforced a focus on delivery but it had also encouraged compliance rather than innovation and a focus on short-term targets rather than long-term priorities. Sutton places great importance on working with its residents to encourage more sustainable lifestyle choices but this is work that takes time to bear fruit.
The LORC research team noted that the Audit Commission is the key player in the CAA and posed the question whether peer review by practitioners might not be more beneficial.
The team felt that the work being done on sustainability was impressive but that the extent to which the structures and processes associated with the CAA and the Local Area Agreement facilitate or hinder local progress on sustainability remains an open question.