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Think Big, Act Local – Anchor Institutions and the Civil Service

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

One thing we don’t do at Tameside Council is stand still; we’re always searching for new ways to improve life in the borough for residents and businesses. Sometimes we create the ideas ourselves, but other times we take good ideas from elsewhere and make them work for Tameside. It is in that spirit that a paper from the Netter Centre of Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania caught my eye this week. It explores the concept of using “anchor institutions” in an area to create employment and attract inward investment.

Broadly speaking, anchor institutions are large public sector or non-profit organisations that are firmly rooted within their local areas. Their size ensures that they have a powerful presence in the community through employing local people, purchasing from local suppliers and acting as a hub for culture, learning and innovation. The most common anchor institutions are universities, colleges and hospitals, although sports team, churches, utility companies and military bases also fit the definition.

But perhaps the most exciting thing to consider is how well anchor institutions would fit into our existing plans for the borough. Already 55.2% of our annual spend is with local businesses, up from 40.7% three years ago. When it is complete, Vision Tameside will make it easier to leverage the presence of Tameside Council and Tameside College to increase footfall and spending within the borough. Furthermore, we also intend to continue our commitment to work closely with our partner organisations in and around Tameside, including New Charter Housing, Active Tameside, NHS Tameside and Glossop, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and our many private sector employers to make Tameside a better place to live, work and invest in.

Looking in the bigger picture, given the recent progress with devolution and the fact that many anchor institutions are large public sector bodies, the argument for moving some of Whitehall’s departments out of London should be revisited. If the BBC can do it, then the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department of Transport (to use but two examples that might be considered) certainly can. Given the ease with which employees can work flexibly thanks to modern technology, and the lower costs of living and doing business in the North, only the hidebound London-centric views of Whitehall are stopping us having a serious conversation about how this could be done.

The past year has shown that British cities could soon be redefining what is possible in terms of building and maintaining a local economy. Our freedom to experiment and innovate at the local level has never been greater. If we truly intend to move forwards and meet the challenges ahead, we should make the very most of it.

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