The brief breathing space between football seasons has a few advantages, not least of which is the suspension of hostilities between historic rivals.

Old hatreds between Newcastle and Sunderland, Sheffield and Leeds, or Chelsea and the human species, are put on the back burner.

You might even find the occasional heavily disguised Mancunian visiting Liverpool for the Capital of Culture festivities.

But rivalries die hard, and not just in football. That’s why the signing of a clutch of multi-area agreements this week shouldn’t be dismissed as a bit of bureaucratic flimflam.

It’s an important, if tentative, step towards a genuinely different way of working.

Such change doesn’t come easily. For the last few months I’ve been working with staff in Leeds and Bradford councils, and with Integreat Yorkshire, the regional centre of excellence, to explore how regeneration practitioners can work together across local authority boundaries.

Bradford and Leeds are old rivals. But we’ve heard how that can change: how Glasgow and Edinburgh, for instance, have put aside mutual contempt to market their strengths together on the international stage.

At ground level, though, these shifts can be difficult to spot. Regeneration practitioners are not blinkered, but they are busy, and the demands of the day job often leave little scope for thinking about the bigger picture.

So the merits of a housing practitioner learning about transport, or a design expert getting to grips with labour markets, are often lost on them.

Multi-area agreements have been a long time coming, and it’s not surprising that the government wants to trumpet their success.

But let’s not over-egg it. The communities secretary declared, somewhat grandiosely, that ‘local areas will work shoulder-to-shoulder to boost economic growth, tackle entrenched pockets of deprivation and unlock their residents’ potential’ thanks to MAAs.

Well, maybe we’ll all, like good Stakhanovites, redouble our efforts to work together. What’s more likely is that the demands of the moment will, if unchecked, frustrate the best intentions.

So here’s my plea to managers: give your staff some space. Space to learn what collaboration means at a local level; to understand how wider issues affect their work; and to learn, debate, reflect and examine.

That way we’ll develop the skills and thinking to turn strategic direction into lasting change.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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