In at the foundations - reflections on a secondment at a new bank

Infra Bank in Focus

In at the foundations - reflections on a secondment at a new bank

21 February 2023

By Alex Clarke, Senior Policy Advisor - Local Authority Advisory

Alex Clarke headshot

After a year at the UK Infrastructure Bank, local government secondee Alex Clarke shares some of his experiences, from learning to start from scratch to developing a passion for bus networks.

I joined the UK Infrastructure Bank in February 2022 on a one-year secondment from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to support the development of the Bank’s local authority advisory function. The team sits alongside the £4 billion of lending available to local authorities for infrastructure projects. Through this lending and advisory it aims to help local authorities realise their climate change and growth plans for infrastructure – a huge challenge and opportunity for the sector.

Having spent the last 10 years working in local government at local and regional levels in West Yorkshire thinking about how to boost local economies, I could immediately see the value that this advisory function could add, and I was keen to bring my experiences to bear on it in these early stages of development. The Bank is committed to being a learning organisation, and for me that has been about developing a greater knowledge of the commercial and financial side of large projects (a skillset that is often difficult to find or develop within the local government sector) and in return giving the Bank the benefit of my direct local authority experience.

The year has gone by really fast. It’s been fascinating and rewarding to be in at the very foundations, to be part of building not only the local authority offer but also the culture of how it will work.

In a hybrid organisation like the UK Infrastructure Bank, which bridges the public and private sector, you see that everyone has different experiences to bring, and they are all valued. From private sector banking, from the civil service or elsewhere, I’ve experienced a lot of respect for each others’ expertise and been able to work in inter-disciplinary teams that create more than the sum of their parts.

As my secondment comes to an end, I’m proud of my achievements from the last 12 months. High points include being part of establishing the Bank’s first local authority advisory pilot projects in Bristol, West Yorkshire and Manchester, in developing ideas for how the advisory services will be delivered over the next business year, and in building our knowledge of key sectors like buses (more on that below), heat networks and retrofit. I’ve also got stuck into issues like compliance, data storage and governance processes – not headline-grabbing, but critical within a start-up and a great all-round learning experience.

And it has also been great to see how the Bank is putting down roots and making Leeds and West Yorkshire its long-term home. The commitment of the leadership to the Leeds HQ has been very visible, and as a resident in Leeds, and a local authority employee in the region, I’m excited to see how that develops in the future.

Although it is hard to leave, I’m really pleased that what I’ve learned here has enabled me to move back into West Yorkshire Combined Authority to take up a new role heading up their Bus Reform team. Bus networks have been a significant focus of the UKIB Local Authority advisory team over the last year, and I’m taking back a lot of extra knowledge to that role that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ll also be taking back some great connections to the Bank, and to some excellent colleagues.

The Bank is looking to continue the programme of secondees from Local Authorities, and I would encourage anyone with a passion for its mission and for improving their commercial and financial knowledge to take the opportunity. It’s a great organisation to accelerate your learning and share your skills and expertise – I hope I’ll have been the first of many Local Government employees to enjoy a stint working for UKIB.

You can find out more about the opportunities for a career at the UK Infrastructure Bank.