Collaboration and Devolution

GM Physical Activity and Sport Commissioning Project with Sport England (February 2016) and Memorandum of Understanding (signed July 2016)

Sport England identified that there was something different happening here and were extremely keen to explore the opportunities of devolution and what this might mean for physical activity and sport. They were keen to explore a strategic relationship with Greater Manchester and what this might look like. Working with GreaterSport, an experienced consultant was engaged to progress this.

In late 2015, Sport England asked me to look at the opportunities in relation to physical activity and sport arising from devolution in GM. They felt it was different from other unitaries and counties. Is there an opportunity for closer collaboration?

In February 2016 we started the process with an initial assessment and review of all the devolution documents. I had 8 pre-scoping interviews to get a picture of how things worked around here. In April 2016 I reported back to Sport England: ‘This is like nowhere else. Clarity. Culture. Devolved leadership. Blended teams.....this is a big deal. There’s a big programme emerging here that we need to consider and plan for’.

From May 2016 we did 8 more interviews [for the commissioning project]. From this a clear and extensive programme was emerging, involving working with people across the lifecourse, in place based contexts and with workforces across the board. Given the size and scope of the potential programme we recommended the early appointment of a Strategic Manager to help realise all of this potential.

We held a big event in GM, a high level summit with Local Authority cabinet members and other leaders to get their buy-in. We ran two sessions, both with William Bird. Hundreds of people came. Momentum was high.

In terms of the strategic relationship between Sport England and Greater Manchester, the suggestion for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two came early in the project. It was developed and signed within a three month period.

We interviewed Steven Pleasant and the MoU concept emerged from there, as GM and Sport England both had a history of developing such approaches to collaborative working...The MoU was developed, then launched and signed by key strategic leaders[2] including Jennie Price (Sport England CEO), in July 2016. It was the first of its kind in the country.


The MoU was a factor not a driver and it's because of the MoU that we have Hayley [GM Moving Strategic Manager] in post. It was a particular moment in time. And Sport England don't have many MoU’s. It's helpful because it suggests longevity of commitment. It was also helpful for the Local Delivery Pilot process, as we knew a lot about what we wanted and how we were going to design it.

The MoU was launched alongside Sport England’s new strategy in July 2016

It took a lot of work to get the legal approval. It tested the development of our relationships. It became a marker in the sand….. The relationships were more important than the words.

MoUs make shared commitments, and often these refer to different ways of working beyond the bog standard. MoUs are about intentions more than the specifics. Therefore it can be hard to say whether they have an impact on delivery: that's not really the point.

We want Sport England to be really excited about working in GM. There’s so much potential here in terms of population and governance, and a group of [Local Authorities] with a history of working together.

Devolution has brought loads of MoUs. The devolution of health and social care in its entirety is based on an MoU. The February 2015 Devolution Deal is in fact, an MoU, though elements of that have been slower than we would like. Changing ways of working is a lot more complex [than developing the MoU itself].

It involves culture change and system change, which goes with the desire to do differently.....Things have been signed, there's intent on all sides. But behind the signatories are systems.

Change is more complex and time consuming than the signing of an MoU.....The MoUs remain useful; you can check back. In any change process people need to look back to see where they’re going. But the work is much broader, that's the hard work. It's not ‘hoorah, we’ve all signed and everything's going to be different from here on.

The commissioning work left an agreed joint action plan between Greater Manchester and Sport England in July 2016. There was a need for a team in place for the MoU and for GM Moving. That started with the Strategic Manager post, which took some time to develop, and started in April 2017.