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Why the City Region Matters for the Third Sector

Added: 08/04/2021

A blog from Third Sector Leeds

Last summer the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham was all over the news as he argued for a different approach to Covid restrictions and business support on the other side of the Pennines.

Whatever your view of politics (here at Third Sector Leeds we’re always politically neutral) it has become noticeable how, over the last year, England’s metro Mayors have taken on an ever more important role in making the case for their areas.

When it comes to city-region devolution, Covid has, as with so many other things, accelerated changes that were already happening.

It’s always been important for the third sector to have a voice at the West Yorkshire level, but in a sector as diverse as ours which is often focused on resolving neighbourhood level problems, it can be challenging to make our case.

With our first Mayor due to be elected on 6 May, TSL thinks there are many areas where the city region will become more important for the future of the third sector and we have been stepping up our work with partners across West Yorkshire to engage with the new devolution structures.


A lot of key strategic planning happens at the city region

The bottom line is that a lot of the big challenges that we face do not observe Local Authority boundaries. Issues like economic recovery, climate change and health planning need solutions that are more local (than central government can direct) but are shaped across populations that live in one local authority area and work in another.

Most third sector organisations want to focus on key services but having an influence in strategic conversations matters, because decisions made about ‘what works’ and ‘what to spend on’ at the city region will then effect investment decisions later.

Let’s take climate change for example. Massive tree planting programmes are planned for West Yorkshire and most will be planted on an industrial scale by private sector organisations using machines. However, the third sector is expert in connecting people in our cities and suburbs to green experiences. So, at TSL we’re making the case to policy makers that right at the beginning of these big programmes the role of the third sector should be planned in. It’s fair to say that thinking about the added social value that the third sector offers (above the financial value of its services) is different to the way that regional policy has shaped up in the past.

Why now is the time to think city region

We really think that the there is a narrow window in which everyone that can really needs to work hard at engaging at the regional level. This is because a lot of structures are changing and because of the impact of Covid on our communities and the way the third sector is perceived. At TSL, we’re trying to keep track of the conversations, bring people together to be as co-ordinated as possible and make the case wherever we can.


Here are some of the key changes happening across the West Yorkshire area…  



  • We are about to have a Metro Mayor for West Yorkshire

When we elect our metro Mayor they will take on a range of responsibilities including transport, economic development, employment and skills and the functions of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Having a mayor that really understands the third sector and is an advocate for us could really change things for communities.

What partners are doing

Our colleagues at national body Locality are working with members of TSL’s Leadership Group and colleagues across West Yorkshire to organise Mayoral Hustings so the third sector can understand what Mayoral candidates approach the third sector will be.

  • NHS management is moving to a West Yorkshire ‘footprint’

The NHS has recently confirmed that over the next year the main body for managing primary care spending will move to being the ‘Integrated Care Partnership’ which is a West Yorkshire body.

As a lot of the focus of this body will be on how to deliver better local services. The voice of the third sector in shaping choices about how better local services are achieved is really important, particularly when it comes to the role the third sector could play.

What partners are doing

TSL member organisation Forum Central continues to work hard with health service partners to make the case for the third sector in the new West Yorkshire Integrated Care Partnership. In the near future, we plan to release a briefing paper with Forum Central giving a bit more detail about what changes in the health service might mean for the third sector.

  • Covid has shown how important the third sector is

The role of the third sector in responding to community needs through Covid has made it even clearer than ever that together we are a critical ‘anchor’ for people and communities. We believe that the role we have played means that policy makers are in a better place to listen to our thoughts about how, with a few tweaks to their approach, we could deliver so much more as we move into economic recovery.

What partners are doing

TSL Leadership Group member Kate Hainsworth (Chief Officer of Leeds Community Foundation) has successfully been making the case to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership about the wider role of the third sector, and the economic recovery strategy now references our key role in helping to drive inclusive economies where everyone has a fairer share. Our Independent Chair, Chris Hollins, has been working with other third sector policy forums and assemblies across West Yorkshire to think through how we can speak with one voice across the sub region.

Building on Leeds’ soon to be published ‘State of the Sector’ report, work is underway to develop an evidence base that shows the value the third sector adds to our region.

We are continuing to work with partners to build on this strong foundation looking at:

  • the third sector’s voice will be heard in economic strategy,
  • developing a manifesto for including the third sector right from the beginning of strategic planning


For more information: 

For more information about Third Sector Leeds and the key areas explored within this blog, please contact the author:

Richard Warrington (Co-ordinator Networks and Forums, Voluntary Action Leeds)


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