I need to start with an apology – I know I promised some thoughts from Sue Bruce this week but owing to me being off on sabbatical and Sue being extremely busy we have not managed to talk. So, I promised to bring you Sue’s thoughts very soon, but instead I wanted to pick up on one of my points from last week – does local government have the right kind of relationship with the private sector to encourage growth or is there just not enough trust there?
Part of the reason why this is in my mind at the moment is because I recently returned from a week long Digital Trade Mission to Washington DC (http://chinwag.com/digitalmission/dc11) – the aim of which was to gather companies who are considering the US market and introduce them to the right people to help us start to form strategy and approaches to plan our next steps. The trip was of particular interest as it was focused on companies who do business with government.
The whole thing was brilliantly organised by the folks by Chinwag and others and supported by the UKTI, and was made up of a great group of companies. But I think an extra thanks is owing to Dom Campbell who with the open hearted cooperation that made me a Futuregov fan after CityCamp London opened up his network and his knowledge to make sure that we saw the right people to pack vast amount of learning into just a week.
However, my main piece of learning wasn’t how to negotiate the GSA (the vast procurement process of Federal Government) or some of the amazing stuff that people like Google are doing with government, it was the fact the the US Government at Federal, State and from all accounts County and City level actually…well….want to work with the private sector.
We were welcomed – enthusiastically – as a group of people who may be able to help them solve some of their more intractable problems.
And this was more than just good manners – take for example Challenge .gov (http://challenge.gov/ ) which is a website which puts out government problems and ask for private sector solutions. Also compare http://www.startupamericapartnership.org/ with http://www.startupbritain.org/. The idea that the private sector isn’t just a deliver partner but also is deeply involved in the process of innovation is deeply embedded in the psyche of government in the US.
And the thing that really struck me was the casual acceptance from government officials that as private companies we were in a better place than they were to innovate and that making a profit as a result of this was not only acceptable – it was desirable. The link between innovation and entrepreneurship was clearly made and seen as something that government should be supporting.
And this is where this really plugs into the debate about local economic growth. Government wanted to support business growth in any way they can as the local tax regime in the US means that your local authority benefits very directly from your success. We found ourselves being courted – routinely – to consider locating our businesses in different tax jurisdictions.
It is unfair to say that the UK Public Sector does not intellectually ‘get’ this point. When John Barradell took over at Brighton & Hove (where my business is based) for example he made a conscious effort to get to know the local business community which is great. However – the kind of routine acceptance of the idea that as a private sector provider would be both useful and desirable – and could be trusted – as someone who could provide the kind of innovation that government desperately needs is just not something I have experienced here in the UK. Which is a huge shame.
I now want to talk to more people to find out if they share this experience – and I want to talk to some Local Government people to see what they think. I am sure that some of you reading this think this is grossly unfair – if you do then please put your view across.