Setting the stage for place-based governance

01 November 2022

Principal Consultant Aidan Rave reflects on 24 hours of rich discussion at GGI’s Leaders’ Forum at Leeds Castle.

We gathered in the medieval setting of Leeds Castle in Kent, a fortress built in 827AD, to engage in discussion with leaders from multiple sectors about place-based governance and the forthcoming winter of discontent.

Of course, that phrase is borrowed from a play about Richard III, whose demise at the Battle of Bosworth Field famously marked the end of the Middle Ages in England. Could we be at another historic turning point?

Our collective focus was on the future – and specifically on how to square the triple aims of ensuring economic growth, sustaining our natural environment, while reducing health inequalities.


If you’ve been to Leeds Castle, you’ll probably know something about its provenance. It’s a place of nobility and kings and queens – including Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – and latterly a setting for significant political events involving peace-making attempts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

Entering the magnificent castle feels like walking onto a filmset, which is no coincidence given the number of films and period dramas that have been made there over the years. Every room evokes images of knights in shining armour, swashbuckling adventurers on missions of derring-do, or maybe one of Agatha Christie’s sleuths assembling everyone in the library to reveal the identity of the mysterious villain.

Such a dramatic backdrop calls for a stellar cast of characters and thankfully, the attendees at the GGI Leaders Forum did not disappoint. Just like the surroundings, the discussions were classy, well-informed and frequently awe inspiring and despite the relentless pace, at no point did the energy levels flag. That’s probably just as well, because as has been well documented, the public sector is facing perhaps the greatest existential threat many leaders have faced in their professional lifetimes.

Here are three brief reflections on spending 24 hours in such spectacular surroundings, from the group sessions and plenaries and even to play GGI’s Flip the script board game to gentle our condition and find harmony where previously we could see only competing aims.

Act 1 – the importance of places and the relationships that bind them

From the introductions through to the final summation, the concept of place was a core theme. To public sector veterans, place is nothing new (remember place-shaping, place-based budgeting, total place?) but the context and perception of place was expertly probed throughout, from an initial challenge about the perceptions of identity and common understanding of place, through to concerns about its systematic overuse; a mere relic from the argot of policymakers past.

Throughout the discussions, the idea of place acted as a lens through which all other issues were viewed. We clearly have more to do in defining more carefully what we mean by place – and we absolutely have more to do in further developing the networks and relationships that underpin them – but place is a concept that simply won’t go away.

Act 2 – beware, the baggage we carry

The interpretation of place might remain subject to further debate, but previous incarnations of place bring with them a legacy of previous working relationships. Some of this history is critical for what is to come and forms the solid foundations of systems, while some brings a more bitter legacy of conflict and division, possibly more inadvertent than malevolent, but it’s there in the background and we ignore it at our peril.

At Leeds Castle, this issue was raised by multiple stakeholders from different sectors, focusing on different issues. There were several vivid examples offered of toxic relationships and the legacy they left in particular systems, with no one sector having the monopoly on sinning or being sinned against.

As we look forward, there was a strong contention that we also need to look back, recognise the mistakes that were made and use them to create more positive relationships in the future.

Act 3 – a new opportunity to shape better outcomes

Perhaps the most significant reflection from the forum was the overwhelming sense of possibility that emerged from each of the sessions throughout the 24 hours. What was also clear is that no one is waiting around for the ‘how-to’ guide on integrated care boards (ICBs), as it was clearly evident that structures, funding capacity and in many cases really quite ambitious locally targeted plans are already being put in place.

The sense of determination from all was palpable; ICBs may not be perfect, but on the evidence of our discussions, they’ve certainly proved a stimulus for actions that might not otherwise have happened.


One final reflection was the slight sense of déjà vu that seemed to be running throughout the 24 hours. Maybe we could call it Groundhog Day?

Ideas for pooled budgets, placed-based partnerships, long-term investment into social outcomes and the like are hardly new – indeed those of us who have been around a while can remember them within our professional lifetimes. They were adopted, even embraced to some degree, but ultimately cut as political fashions moved on. Yet here we were discussing potential initiatives within the scope of ICBs that sounded suspiciously like those polices of days gone.

Should this discourage us? Well, the moral of the tale in Groundhog Day is ultimately not about living the same day repeatedly, it’s rather about a process of learning and growing – learning from our previous mistakes, but also growing though new outlooks, priorities and even values and ultimately creating change.

Meet the author: Aidan Rave

Principal Consultant

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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