The conference last week on “City and Growth Deals – Unpacking the steps for successful planning and delivery” was a model of how these things should run – with a succession of excellent presentations addressing the topic from a wide variety of perspectives, but with each one providing its own valuable insights; and with lively round-table discussions between each session.

The conference was co-produced by the Economic Development Association of Scotland (I think I’ve been a member for almost 20 years – a sobering thought!) and the UK-wide Institute of Economic Development – allowing for a perspective which not only took on board the lessons learned in a Scottish context but also the experience south of the border. Importantly, though, the conference was as much (actually more) about looking forward, and with one key message being that agreeing the Deal was in some ways the easy bit – the hard stuff is in actually delivering the Deal.

What is becoming evident is that, for the Scottish City Region Deals, the progress from high-level business case to shovel-ready individual projects has proven to be slower than anticipated. Given that the first Gateway Review (a critical milestone, as regards release of further funding) for the Glasgow City Region Deal is not far off (again, one of those moments where you realise the march of time – it seems only yesterday that I was exploring options for the governance framework), the issue of slow progress could be a source of real concern. There were some reassuring messages, though, in the presentation from the consultants currently working on evaluation of (among others) the infrastructure fund forming the major part of the Glasgow City Region Deal; it is recognised that it would be unrealistic to expect to see evidence at this stage of significant economic growth.

But the issue of moving smoothly and at pace towards delivery of individual projects is still one that needs to be cracked, if the full potential of the City Region Deals is to be unlocked. Part of the issue is round resourcing and skills at the level of the Programme Management Offices (PMOs) – but there are a number of other factors at play.

My own presentation at the conference focused on governance and structures – tackling this from the perspective of what the governance structure needs to support and reinforce at each of the three levels – strategic, programme management, and delivery.

So far as delivery is concerned, careful consideration needs to be given to developing the optimum legal structures to support collaboration among public sector partners, as well as potentially public-private joint ventures - and that may mean moving into the territory of bespoke corporate vehicles, rather than looser partnering arrangements, to ensure proper governance and accountability. And there needs to be a willingness to look at more innovative models for financing and procurement (including the option of adopting an Innovation Partnership model – a ball that’s still waiting to be picked up) - to maximise the impact of the City Region Deals in setting the economy of each City Region on a secure path towards strong, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.