'If the first phase of LAAs has concentrated on designing and ensuring focused target delivery, albeit in partnership, now we need to ask whether this is sufficient.'
The original local area agreement 'prospectus' set out a broad intent to build a new relationship between central and local government based on mutual trust and responsibility. Issued in 2004 by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, it expected this to be mirrored across partners at local strategic partnership level.
Local area agreements would focus on a range of agreed outcomes alongside simplifying the number of additional funding streams going into an area, joining up public services and reducing bureaucracy.
Having set out ambitious, transformational intentions and a genuine commitment to pull together to make things happen more quickly, I suspect that initial negotiations with government offices then focused, understandably, on defining measurable outcomes, indicators and targets within each local area agreement 'block' (or key theme).
Locally, this means five blocks, 22 strategic outcomes and 104 indicators (or baskets of indicators) with associated targets, actions and performance management processes. Challenging discussions tested the extent to which progress could truly be measured in each area, and reviewed the 'fidelity' of the actions proposed: would they have the impact they were intended to have?
I believe this was the right focus, not just because it unlocked additional resources but also because the rigour and challenge led to greater understanding of what we were trying to achieve together. A shared performance management framework is ensuring that each work stream stays on track, with the first two quarters' data informing a 'refresh' process, now under way.
So, if the first phase of LAAs has concentrated on designing and ensuring focused target delivery, albeit in partnership, now we need to ask whether this is sufficient.
The original intentions were clearly much broader and the recent local government white paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities, provides a framework for a different kind of discussion. At a practical level, the need to share assets, systems, data, skills and knowledge more effectively is described. Not just to gain efficiency and productivity but also to free time to work through the great ideas that have emerged but which we have not got round to implementing.
For us, that could mean introducing the 'shared talent pool' proposal, providing substantive employment within the partnership for individuals with project management skills rather than each organisation re-recruiting each time work is commissioned.
The white paper also places a reciprocal duty of partnership on all local players. Legislating for co-operation raises questions about the nature of the resulting governance arrangements and has acted as a catalyst for a broader debate locally.
We are all already making strides to meet the practical requirements of joint working. The real challenge for the future will be to build partnerships where organisational boundaries are no longer quite so important; partnerships that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Gail Richards is chief executive of Oldham primary care trust, winner of the primary care organisation of the year award in this year's HSJ Awards.