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Labour landslide ushers in a new era for places and their leadership

Keir Starmer and Victoria Starmer
Credit: Keir Starmer (Flickr -


Finally, we have confirmation that Labour has swept to power or, perhaps more accurately, the Conservatives have been swept out of it.

Keir Starmer’s mandate as Prime Minister is simple. ‘Change’.

For people all over the UK, ‘change’ includes our towns and cities and what they have to offer local communities. Change means fixing broken local services. It means bringing hope and pride back to high streets.

What does change mean for places?

Common place metrics are moving in the wrong direction. The vacancy rate for high street properties has risen from 11.7% to 14% since 2015[1]. High street footfall is down by almost 15% in the same period[2]. But behind these indicators lie the much more worrying causes of decline.

At the end of 2023, real wages have not increased from their 2005 level[3]. And, perhaps the most damning statistic for place managers and leaders, 73% of people don’t feel able to influence decisions made about their local area[4].

The political consensus that arrived overnight is sorely needed. As red colours our local and national governments, the hope is for aligned priorities, and for much better relationships that focus resources and leadership.  We need national government to develop and implement policy that tackles the ‘big issues’ – economic growth, sustainability, inequality, and we need local government, working in full collaboration with their communities, to make visible and meaningful change to places.

Less energy, we hope, will be lost to political infighting both within and between levels of government. For the sake of the nation’s reputation or brand as well as our trust in democracy today must also signal the end of scandal.

The end of bidding wars…

A new way for national government to support places will be needed as we reach the end of some major local funding schemes. Pending any future announcements from Labour, over £5bn of capital funding will disappear at the end of the great Levelling Up project, as well as significant schemes like the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Whatever your views on the ideology of Levelling Up – and noting the significant challenges in actually spending the available funding – the past five years have brought place-based investment to the forefront of British politics. Indeed, ‘place’ has entered the lexicon of an entire industry, as a strategy for delivering impact, and as the real context for change.

Put simply, if you can’t see the effects of public investment on your local high street, is it really benefitting the people?

…the start of capacity building

The allocation of billions of pounds of funding to local authorities since 2019 has flushed out some of the major structural and cultural challenges that face UK place governance.

The Institute of Place Management has seen first-hand how over 40% of places[5] in England don’t have functioning local partnerships to deliver the type of place-based projects that collectively make change.

A decade of cuts to non-protected departments and services has left a majority of Councils without internal capacity and overly-dependent on crafting investment propositions for public funding or private development, rather facilitating action in partnership with local communities.

The Institute has supported 150 places with challenges like these in its delivery of the High Streets Task Force, which comes to an end in September this year. The team has seen the huge difference made in places that are ready to commit to partnership working, to data-led transformation, and to investing in their place making expertise. Places like Barnsley, which boosted footfall by over 30% in a new multifunctional town centre destination with NHS diagnostic centre alongside retail, food and drink offerings[6]. Places like Newquay, with a strong Town Team that has mapped out transformative development opportunities and will be connected to the region by a new metro system and better rail infrastructure[7]. And, places like Tower Hamlets which has invested in a new neighbourhood team that links local communities and businesses to key public services and delivers a rich event programme in the borough[8].

Funding has supported these projects, but it is the culture and contribution of the local partnerships that have been decisive in their success.

A renewed focus for the Institute of Place Management

During the course of the last parliament, the Institute of Place Management was privileged to support hundreds of people who care about places, taking a hands-on approach to helping develop local visions and strategies that activate places and guide their long-term transformation.

We’ve identified some key challenges that Prime Minister Starmer will inherit – a lack of local resource, a hollowing of expertise and of services, and a lack of consistent support for transformative local partnerships and their place leaders.

The challenge for Labour now switches from the political soundbites of campaign trails to the more difficult task of momentum-building across the country. How do we energise and drive place-based growth? How do we define what success looks like for places? How do we facilitate change with people? How does national government adapt to a role of facilitation; of enabling and empowerment with local place leaders? Not just at a regional level, through devolution of powers to mayors and combined authorities, but at a level that matters to people – their town centre, high street, or neighbourhood.

Academic vision to change places

The Institute will be tackling these key questions by pursuing its academic vision and building on its history of world-leading research. It will seek to enhance the quality, sustainability and vibrancy of urban and rural places – working with its global network of scholars, policymakers and practitioners.

As the High Streets Task Force project ends, we will be delivering less hands-on support in communities. We will have a renewed focus on developing theory that can influence policy and help our members and stakeholders make better places.

From its base at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Institute has a solid foundation to build from, as we all enter what feels like a new era for place – from here in the UK. There will be some changes to the IPM programme, starting in the new academic year, and work with University staff and IPM members will help to shape this in the coming weeks and months. This programme will support both policy makers and place practitioners to address a new set of complex challenges, through sharing the best research and knowledge.

Great leadership makes great places

Prime Minister Starmer may not be expecting a honeymoon period, even if the England mens’ football team can defy the odds and win the Euros. His own personal challenge is one that’s mirrored in town halls, chambers of commerce, and community centres around the UK. Great places demand great leadership.

Since 2006, the Institute of Place Management has taught and worked with some great leaders. Many of these individuals have graduated from our MSc Place Management and Leadership programme, which opens again in January 2025, and many are found running Business Improvement Districts, which have come so far since their establishment in 2004, and since their work with the Institute began in 2018 with the formation of The BID Foundation. Many are also found in community groups and organisations, making significant impact on their local places through their personal innovation and determination.

Great place leaders have been found by the Institute to have a strong belief in their purpose while also being collaborative. Great leaders are passionate and bold, but also resilient to navigate change in places that are contested and complex[9].

So, let’s not just look to the new government for leadership. Let’s look to every community group, every dedicated individual with a pride in their hometown, our private and public sector, and to every researcher and policymaker that offers relevant knowledge and ideas.

At the Institute, we are confident about what can be achieved with great place leadership, and we’re ready to support it over the next 5 years and beyond.












About the author


Formed in 2006, the Institute of Place Management is the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better.

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