Stop, collaborate and listen

4 Dec 2017 12:55 PM

Blog posted by: Collaborate CIC, 01 December 2017.

A chance is emerging for our sector to improve the way public services are delivered within our places, but it requires a significant culture shift — and a willingness to work together, explains Dr. Henry Kippin.

This article was originally published in The MJ, on the 22nd November 2017.

Vanilla Ice famously told us to “stop, collaborate and listen”. I think we should take his advice, but perhaps change the order. The aftermath of a budget and a round of devolution deals is a good time to stop. Take stock. Ask where we are on the fundamental question of place leadership within a public service landscape that remains in great flux.

The opportunities are there for a step change in the way we deliver public services within our places. But only if we are prepared to work together in ways that challenge some of the prevailing cultures in our sector. Crucially, this requires new relationships across agencies and with central government – getting us beyond ‘deal making’ and into a grown up relationship that makes a possibility of system change through collaboration. This is the challenge for local leaders, and it will define the future success of our city regions.

There are three reasons to believe this.

First, because the operating context for public services is changing. The world out there — and indeed what Mark Moore called the ‘authorising environment’ — is getting more complex. We know, for example, that more people are living with complex and multiple needs — currently 25 out of every 1,000 and growing, according to the Lankelly Chase Foundation. Society is getting older — putting an extra 5% points on to GDP by 2050 according to some predictions. But don’t project forward more and more versions of your nan, because this increasingly complex, digital and demanding society is the one we are going to be caring for later. Public leaders are already forced to cope with rising and shifting demand. But we are in the foothills of what is to come.

Second, we are experiencing a quite fundamental breaking of the economic and public service model we have lived with since the 1940s, and which William Beveridge famously sketched in his report published 75 years ago. Not only have societal norms shifted, but the universal welfare model is no more, and the relationship between welfare, skills, jobs and prosperity is broken. Evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundations suggests that around half of families in poverty have a family member in work. A child of 3 experiencing poverty can be expected to lag behind their peers for their whole life to come. Our model of public services was designed for a different age, and it can no longer cope.

Third, our social contract — the ‘deal’ that holds society together — is hanging by a thread. In professions like law, medicine and the media, who your parents are is still a massive determinant of your success. The provision and burden of welfare is — rightly or wrongly — shifting slowly but surely away from the state. And Nye Bevan’s famous dream of “every bedpan dropped on a hospital floor resonating in the corridors of Westminster” is hanging by a thread as the NHS rightly begins to shift towards models of accountable care that are more locally determined. If we are truly in the era of movements, not organisations, then the deal that binds society will need to change.