What Now Leeds…?

I spent a bit of time yesterday looking at the latest DRAFT ‘Vision for Leeds’, developed by the Leeds Initiative.  It has been under development for months now, and many of us will have contributed ideas through the ‘What If Leeds’ workshops or through the online forum that was set up for the job.  Depending on your point of view this document is either of central importance in influencing the development of the City, or just meaningless verbiage.  The amount of time I have put into this over the last year or so I really hope it is the former.

The new Vision for 2030 has been drafted, including City Priority Plans covering the work of 5 sub-boards:

  • Children and Families
  • Safer and Stronger Communities
  • Sustainable Economy and Culture
  • Regeneration
  • Health and Wellbeing

Clearly there are overlaps between these boards with much of what needs to be done needing co-ordination across several of them.

It is important to recognise that none of these sub boards have any powers. These remain with the partnership member organisations, including The Council, NHS, Police and Fire Authorities, Education, the private and third sectors. The boards simply provide a mechanism through which each organisation’s work can be co-ordinated and perhaps influenced to fit in with the over-arching development of the City.

But back to the draft Vision.

The Vision itself is incredibly bold and ambitious.  As the Vision says, the people of Leeds have spoken – and this is our Vision!

By 2030, Leeds will be locally and internationally recognised as the best city in the UK

By 2030, Leeds will be fair, open and welcoming. Leeds will be a place where everyone has an equal chance to live their life successfully and realise their potential. Leeds will embrace new ideas, involve local people, and welcome visitors and those who come here to live, work and learn.

By 2030, Leeds’ economy will be prosperous and sustainable. We will create a prosperous and sustainable economy, using our resources effectively. Leeds will be successful and well-connected offering a good standard of living.

By 2030, All Leeds’ communities will be successful. Leeds’ communities will thrive and people will be confident, skilled, enterprising, active and involved.

Nothing if not ambitious.

Each of these headline aims are expanded into a number of bullet points, such as:

  • people are treated with dignity and respect at all stages of their lives – (which I love because of the sheer scale of its ambition)
  • we all behave responsibly (which I love because of its sheer idiocy and unwillingness to accept human nature for what it is! Imagine the focus groups defining ‘responsible behaviour’, and the fun that might be had with enforcement!  And we all behave responsibly when?  All of the time?  Some of the time?  Once in a while?  In public places? We might need some kind of ‘responsibility licence’ where we get ‘points’ for irresponsible behaviour.  Too many points and your banned.  Perhaps each community can shape its own definitions of ‘responsible’ allowing us to develop communities with distinct cultures.
  • local people have the power to make decisions that affect us – (I am guessing that in this case the ‘Us’ is the council and its partners – just imagine that, a city where citizens had the power to make decisions that affect the state!  We could call it ….democracy….)
  • a strong local economy driving sustainable economic growth (a local economy! Not a regional, national or global one.  Just imagine that.)
  • work for everyone with secure, flexible employment and good wages – a city of full employment and good (above average?) wages
  • high-quality, accessible, affordable and reliable public transport
  • successfully achieved a 40% reduction in carbon emissions (by 2020)
  • people have the opportunity to get out of poverty (now I would like to think that we could strengthen this to say everyone that wants support to get out of poverty is able to access it and use it to make progress, or some such)
  • community-led businesses meet local needs (look out private ownership – the Peoples Republic of Leeds is after you.  You can go and meet the needs of non locals – but here, we look after our own.  Community led banks, utilities…everything! By 2030.)
Now I love a big hairy audacious goal as much as anyone.  They require great leadership, tremendous commitment, phenomenal communication, a willingness to fail in their pursuit and, usually a lot of time and money.  And if you are going to engage me in the pursuit of a BHAG, you had better be serious about it.  Any hint that this is hot air or political posturing without the commitment and resources to have a real crack…..
The draft vision then starts to move towards implementation in the form of a series of City Priority Plans, one for each of the 5 sub boards.  And here I have some real concerns – because some of our BHAGs get diluted,  BIG TIME.
City Priority Plans
So the Vision (or BHAG) of Leeds being a ‘healthy and caring city’, becomes a 4 Year Priority to ensure that ‘More People Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices’ which gets translated into a Headline Indicator that tracks the number of adults smoking.  A vision that could be something to rally people around becomes a simple quantitative goal that the NHS and Government taxation will ensure happens anyway.
And this is not a one off.
The City Priority Plan for regeneration has a Four Year Priority to ‘Support the recovery of the Leeds Economy’.  And the Headline Indicator for this?  Development of an as yet unspecified number of hectares of brownfield land!
If we are not careful we will end up with a bureaucratic response to the ‘Vision for Leeds’ that will enable the various strategic partners to get on with what they were doing anyway.
At least some of the people of Leeds spoke their minds when it comes to setting the vision for the City.  I think that we now need to speak our minds again when it comes to developing the City Priority Plans.
You can download the full document in pdf format here.  Just click the link for ‘Tuesday 15 March 2011’.  The Vision for Leeds starts on page 37.

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