The Design Council has written to me this morning (and presumably to another several hundred of its closest friends) to tell me it has entered “an exciting phase”. Well, how marvellous is that?
The round-robin goes on to outline that: “Trustees have agreed a new strategy and a suite of services focused on addressing issues of national significance. As you may know, we use design as a strategic tool to tackle major societal challenges, drive economic growth and innovation, and improve the quality of the built environment. Our approach is people-centred and enables the delivery of positive social, environmental and economic change.”
This is somewhat indigestible newspeak, but once you’ve deciphered it, there’s nothing not to like. I will spare you the rest of the (slightly breathless) missive but the gist is that this “exciting phase” entails the stepping down of the current chief executive, the rather admirable John Mathers, and that the Design Council is now looking for a new “dynamic and inspiring” chief executive to “own, drive and deliver our strategy”. They are clearly casting their net far and wide in a very consultative and public search. And quite right too.
I do a lot of work with this organisation, which I still insist on referring to as “Design Council/CABE” as today’s Design Council is the result of a rather brutal forced marriage between the Design Council and CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) after the 2010 general election. It was very painful for all concerned and possibly not the most strategic of decisions, given the emerging focus on place, through Greg Clark’s City Deals, Local Growth Fund and devolution agenda. But hey!
The CABE part of the Design Council offers a fantastic blueprint for government agencies. It is a wholly decentralised organisation with a tiny team at its core, comprising a handful of officers and two administration staff. But out in the field it has a network of 400 CABE Commissioners or “BEEs” (Built Environment Experts). These guys are property professionals of all sorts, available on a call-off basis; they receive a day rate for being thus deployed (but this is almost always a much reduced fee from what they would charge in their practices). It is a powerful network of big hitters, which has immediate obvious benefits to any locality seeking to manage change in its built environment. The BEEs do their job for love, for CPD, to increase their own networks and businesses and, most of all, for prestige. And every time Design Council/CABE advertises for new BEEs, they are well over-subscribed.
There are a number of projects under way in various cities and towns on the local growth/inward investment side which demand a multi-agency approach, sitting between all the local stakeholders (wherever the locality may be) and CLG, BIS, UKTI RIO and Design Council/CABE. The CABE part of the team offers comprehensive design support to the host planning authorities to bring forward well designed major development at the earliest possible opportunity; they can be the essential independent broker that unlocks major housing and regeneration sites. And they provide independent design advice for all in the development process. And the biggest comfort in all this, in these austere times, is that Design Council/CABE is self-financing in this locality based work, and is not reliant on government grant.
The scale of the opportunity in terms of the number of regeneration projects that could benefit from the Design Council/CABE approach is inestimable. And using Design Council/CABE signals that we explicitly recognise that economic growth must be promoted through principles of good design. And I continually bang this drum: the local growth agenda must never be jeopardised by any suggestion that growth was at the expense of the quality of the built environment.
So I would hope that the new chief executive will recognise and nurture the crucial CABE part of the Design Council family; it still has a strong brand, which is highly regarded out there, with impeccable integrity and credentials. And it is a crucial plank to the local growth strategy.
Perrett Laver is handling the executive search. We should all wish them every success.