“Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and its constituent member councils are the undisputed pioneers of English devolution. This success is built on a long history of decades of collaboration across the city region where the Mayor, political leaders, senior managers, partners and stakeholders work hard in the best interests of residents.”

That is the opening of the recent LGA peer review of GMCA, the first of any of the Mayoral Combined Authorities. It details how through strong collaboration, Greater Manchester has achieved together things they could not have achieved alone.

It’s not always been easy, but on health, education, housing, homelessness, economic development, and beyond, organisations across Greater Manchester have built relationships, established a sense of common purpose, built collective ways of working, overcome differences, and adapted to changing circumstances.

Earlier in the summer we hosted an event with GMCA and their partners to explore what’s made this collaboration possible and what others can learn from GMCA’s experience. You can watch the full event here.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, opened by explaining the unique role of Combined Authorities in joining the dots locally, by taking a place-based approach and making things make sense on the ground. This is how Combined Authorities, who work with “names not numbers” can add value to Whitehall departments and local government.

To be successful on almost any of the social issues we face, he said, we must be highly collaborative, taking a whole place, whole system approach. He gave the example of the GM Homelessness Action Network , established to pursue the mission of eradicating homelessness. It brings together public, private, voluntary, community, and faith organisations, and works to ensure they are “facing in the same direction and pulling in the same direction”.

This approach is getting results. Burnham quoted a recent Health Foundation study in the Lancet that cited a high degree of alignment between public, private, community and voluntary sector organisations as one of the reasons behind faster than expected increases in life expectancy, particularly in more deprived areas.

Other speakers highlighted how the key foundations of collaboration are evident in their work:

Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, highlighted the long history of building trusting relationships across local authorities, through the creation of the first Combined Authority, and the continuing efforts to understand the proper role and power of each of the different entities involved.

Andrew Lightfoot, Deputy Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, spoke of the importance of collaborative behaviours – bravery, humility, honesty, flexibility, and tenacity – to work together on a common vision, welcoming diversity of opinion and recognising the limitations of what you each can do. GMCA have embedded this in their staff recruitment, development, and management. And he reminded us that “Collaboration is tough, you hear things that hurt sometimes… but the prize is enormous.”

Henry Kippin, Chief Executive of North of Tyne Combined Authority and member of the LGA Peer Review of GMCA, highlighted the importance of cultivating a collaborative mindset which believes that ‘we and the challenges we face’ are all connected. “Everyone talks about GM, and what we are doing… it’s hard to tell who works at GMCA and who doesn’t and that’s a good thing”.

Stephen Watson, Chief of the Greater Manchester Police, reflected on the recent improvements the force has made to enable it to play a stronger and less insular role in delivering on the shared vision and purpose. That includes reorienting their organisational operating model to the GM strategy, so that it is proactive and capable of problem solving with place-based partners.

Liz Windsor-Welsh, Chief Executive of Action Together and Director of 10GM, talked about the importance of collaborative infrastructure which supports people to share power, take risks together, and build capability and capacity to collaborate across all levels of the system, from region-wide to individual neighbourhoods.

Warren Heppolette, Chief Officer for Strategy & Innovation at NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care spoke of the need to convene the system to learn together, and respond to collective challenges. He gave the example of working with residents and partners to tackle the determinants of ill health that stretch beyond the reach of the NHS, like homelessness and unemployment.

To read more about Collaboration, see our Guide to Collaboration.

Join our mailing list for notifications about upcoming Collaborating for Social Change conversations:

  • Collaborative Behaviours: 13th September,  12-1pm
  • Shared Purpose & Collaborative Mindset: 11th October, 12-1pm
  • Collaborative Infrastructure: 8th November, 12-1pm
  • Shared Learning: 6th December, 12-1pm