Happy New Year 2017... As we return to work and the grind of the everyday, I thought I would review an article I wrote for Children England on devolution in 2016.
Wishing to inspire and motivate all who work in the voluntary sector across Lancashire, and with hope in my heart, here are my thoughts again in the final few paragraphs...
Will devolution improve matters? Although the total amount of money will be the same, a combined budget potentially straddling transport, health and local authority statutory services would be significant and, with the powers to decide the distribution of these funds, the opportunity to get the money to work better for the population as whole is real. So would Lancashire's children see a benefit?
In my view there is a real chance this could happen. There is already a focus on families, prevention, health and wellbeing and local neighbourhoods in place. The opportunity through devolved powers to do more, to join up adult and children’s social care, with health and education, could see both savings and improvements to lives of the children, families and local communities.
The challenges however are manifest. Staffing cuts, loss of leadership, skills and knowledge are set to continue. To quote Charlton Ogburn Jr. in the Marauders, 1959 - “reorganisation can create the illusion of progress whilst producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation’’. This can lead to fragmentation internally and externally, with reductions in commissions, increased risk transfer to the private and independent sectors and risk-averse, overbearing technical and legal procurement systems ruling the roost. The period of transformation will be fraught with uncertainty and when new systems and powers emerge, where will democracy be? Will elected mayors and newly formed decision-making bodies be truly accountable to the people? I’d like to hope so.
Without such a radical change, austerity, which is evidently biting hard in the north, will impact most on the most vulnerable people and communities. And what about the voluntary sector’s response to this change in Lancashire?
The sector doesn’t make it easy for itself; seeking to negotiate with local authorities through many and varied channels, often based on personal long-standing relationships, never a good thing and, with wholesale staffing changes, unsustainable in any case. The voluntary sector needs to change. To demonstrate that it can be cohesive; provide a clear case for investment; and operate in a clear, differentiated and structured way, so that it may deliver high quality public services; harnessing the full reach and depth of the sector at grassroots level, so that people and communities can thrive with autonomy and with the appropriate level support and intervention.
Lancashire’s voluntary sector leaders have recently pledged to get themselves ready for devolution and this has been recognised as a positive move by the Healthier Lancashire board. Whilst such work is still in progress, there is common agreement that a new independent body ought to be nurtured into being. Such a body would need to take on a representation and leadership role but would not be involved in drawing down or distributing funding, leading bids or delivering services. The body ought to be the voice of the sector, pure and simple. How this could be funded, governed and legitimized, is being looked into, but there is newfound desire to create one unified body that stands up for the sector across Lancashire.
I am confident that the sector in Lancashire can pull this off. Why so confident? Because in Lancashire we have shown the way; joining together the best local voluntary sector providers into partnerships and consortia, winning significant multi million pound contracts and, using this experience, to make real the opportunity in 2016, to secure significant funding from Europe.
How was this done? Essentially by deciding to collaborate, creating single voluntary sector bids and agreeing the most appropriate recognised lead agencies respectfully; all of which has produced more investment into preventative and early support services for children and families in Lancashire. Independent evaluation of these contracts, has illustrated how, by being collective and working together, providers have managed to improve children’s lives.
Whilst I remain optimistic for the sector in the long run, as I mentioned earlier, the next few years of transformation will be really tough: all I can say is watch this space.
CEO Young Lancashire