As George Osborne discusses devolving greater powers to UK cities, it’s more important than ever to build strong relationships with local decision-makers


James Wates

The phrase “local is sanity” has been used and abused across a variety of sectors.

The media sector has been forced to confront this conundrum as the fall-out from digital platforms washed through the print news industry with some force. Local media have consolidated, in this country and especially in the United States, where large owner groups realised it was the most realistic way to survive, in some cases the only way.

Whether in media or finance or any other sector, two forces continue to co-exist: the irresistible push for global partnerships, and the unbreakable value of local relationships.

In the case of the media sector, that manifests itself as the need to consolidate content while maintaining strong local-based relationships with readers and staff on the ground.

In the case of finance, the reappearance of what look like old-style covenants between provider and customer remind us that without those customers - most of whom live no further than a few miles from the place where they were born - there would be no bank. Because to retail customers all their decisions are local: mortgage, car loan, whatever. And, curious or not, many customers want to see someone face-to-face across a local counter.

In the case of our sector, every building is local. The Shard has far more impact on the lives of the people who walk under it everyday - but who’ll never live or dine in its global glass splendour - than it does on the occasional apartment dweller and Asian-fusion loving diner.  

Our relationships with local decision-makers will become ever more important as they specify ever-tighter outcomes, expecting to see their projects built to world-class standards.

At Wates, every relationship is local: building a specific project at a specific moment in time in a specific locality. Wates likes to think that we don’t lose sight of this simple fact. Our community projects, while universal in ambition, are shaped around what’s on the ground, not by a manual with cookie-cutter handiwork.

Last week in Birmingham, George Osborne talked about the need to devolve far greater powers to UK cities so that they can in turn join with surrounding authorities to determine what’s most needed in an area: housing (always!), healthcare, roads, whatever. I applaud this, and will applaud even louder when I see promises become legislation.

The chancellor’s comments were made in the context of rebalancing wealth creation centres in the UK, and quite right too. But every extra pound generated in Salford or Stoke is in essence a local pound. It does not roll its way to London. It ensures apprenticeships and school standards in Salford or in Stoke. And in turn the social and financial benefits felt in those communities become part of the repairing fabric of the country.

That’s where national and local interests join up. And that’s what we should focus on across our sector.

Our relationships with local decision-makers will become ever more important as they specify ever-tighter outcomes, expecting to see their projects built to world-class standards. The fusion won’t be Thai and Indonesian chicken with fragrant rice over a glass of Jasmine tea; it’ll be the challenge of bringing global standards to local expectations.

Developing these relationships is hardly new and I don’t raise the issue as if it were a fresh phenomenon. But I’m struck increasingly by the tension between the ever-pushier demands to complete and finish, and the need to secure lasting relationships along the way.

Everyone, every business is driven by the need to complete and move on to the next thing. Not unreasonable. But the stakes we leave in the ground behind us serve as areminder to suppliers, clients and whoever else that we value the relationship which led to winning the project. And that when they next face a choice between suppliers, theyhave something to reflect on that does all parties proud: local DNA, shared.

James Wates is chairman of Wates, the CITB and UKCG