Issue 5

HOW COUNCILS ARE BEING THOROUGHLY MODERN - HARNESSING OLD FASHIONED COMMUNITY SPIRIT

By Campbell Mclundie, Partner, Scott-Moncrieff

Best, and most simply, defined as the role of people in public services, community co-production has been around for a while.  However, for a long time, it was more of a ‘movement’, something that was done by people in the know, good practice that existed in pockets within enlightened communities.  

The economic climate in which we currently find ourselves has seen community co-production develop into full scale policy in some places, as local authorities realise the immense power of working with communities, and more importantly, actively decide to work towards harnessing the concept as a legitimate vehicle for efficient service delivery within a modern local government context.  

In common with the rest of the Scottish Public Sector, local authorities and health boards are faced with an unprecedented reduction in available funding at the same time as increasing demands for services as a result of welfare reforms and changes in demographics.  While there are many examples of cost reductions and efficiencies being achieved through either organisational restructuring or changes in how services are delivered by the public bodies, there is a growing realisation that if communities wish to protect the levels of public  service available they need to play a greater role in their planning and delivery.

there is a growing realisation that if communities wish to protect the levels of public service available they need to play a greater role in their planning and delivery.

The Scottish Government’s Commission into the future delivery of public services in 2011, chaired by the late Dr Campbell Christie, highlighted a number of reforms which would be required if public services were to be sustainable.  The principles underlying these reforms were:

•    “Reforms must aim to empower individuals and communities receiving public services by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use.
•    Public service providers must be required to work much more closely in partnership, to integrate service provision and thus improve the outcomes they achieve.
•    We must prioritise expenditure on public services which prevent negative outcomes from arising.
•    And our whole system of public services – public, third and private sectors – must become more efficient by reducing duplication and sharing services wherever possible”

The Scottish Government is currently reviewing Community Planning and Single Outcome Agreements to build on existing successes, and acknowledges the Christie Commission’s finding that “action is needed to build on this success by removing barriers to effective partnership working and to ensure that leadership and cultures, systems and structures, and accountability arrangements across public services fully enable the delivery of better outcomes for communities.”  

One of those barriers is procurement, and often current community partnerships can only go so far, creating greater engagement with people and a much clearer idea of what services the community wants and needs. But then delivery is turned back over to the procurement system, which can cut out those that may be well placed to deliver, and with an emotional motivation to make it work.  

co-production is challenging because it doesn’t fit with the current way of doing things, and doesn’t gel with existing structures or frameworks. That’s no reason not to use it though

Over the past few years a number of excellent examples of pilot projects have been introduced across the UK seeking to deliver reforms such as those that Christie recommended.  However, many of these have been delivered in isolation or have not been considered appropriate to adopt on a wider basis.  Where councils engage to establish need, then deliver services themselves (or through third parties), some feel a trick is being missed, and that the barriers to going one step further are not insurmountable.  

NESTA, which stated that “co-production looks set to create the most important revolution in public services since the Beveridge Report in 1942”, has highlighted some of the practical challenges of co-production: "Overall, the challenge seems to amount to one clear problem. Co-production, even in the most successful and dramatic examples, barely fits the standard shape of public services or charities or the systems we have developed to ‘deliver’ support, even though [in the UK] policy documents express ambitions to empower and engage local communities, to devolve power and increase individuals’ choice and control.”

In short, co-production is challenging because it doesn’t fit with the current way of doing things, and doesn’t gel with existing structures or frameworks.  That’s no reason not to use it though, a belief held by Dumfries and Galloway Council, who have taken on the challenge.  

Since 2011 Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scott-Moncrieff have been working closely in the development of a “Community Co-Production Framework” aligned to an existing strategic commissioning and delivery framework already used within the Council to design and deliver services.  The Community Co-Production Framework provides a means through which public sector bodies can actively engage with local communities in the planning, design and delivery of local public services including by communities themselves.

The Framework has been based on lessons learned from community planning, previous pilot projects, academic research, international experience and commercial practices in areas such as business format franchising.  Consideration has also been given to key areas such as:

•    Strong governance including public accountability and performance management
•    The need for coordinated planning and development support
•    The need for community capacity building in some areas
•    Building on existing successes including the effective and efficient use of existing joint working arrangements
•    Compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements such as EU procurement

It has been recognised that the Community Co-Production Framework will not be appropriate for all services but it provides an opportunity for innovative but controlled engagement with capable communities in the redefinition of what services a community can deliver, their related costs and the outcomes which they achieve.

Shared responsibility for public services may have been a ‘touchy feely’ concept in the 1970’s when the term ‘Community Co-Production’ was coined in the US.  However, in today’s climate it represents a real opportunity to deliver key services by harnessing the ‘can-do’ spirit of modern communities.

 

By Campbell Mclundie, Partner, Scott-Moncrieff

Issue 5

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