Issue 13

IMAGINING A FAIRER FIFE

By Martyn Evans, Chief Executive, Carnegie Trust UK

When I was invited to chair the Commission I was sure about the moral case. I am now convinced of the economic and social case for fairness.

“The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.” wrote Noah Webster (of Webster dictionary fame) more than 200 years ago. The question for all of us today, is whether we are going the way of Rome. Will the growing inequalities and unfairness in our society be as fatal? Sounds like hyperbole, a gross exaggeration?

Then read what the OECD (the club for the richest countries in the world) reported in 2015; “There is an urgent call for governments to address inequalities. This (rising inequality) takes a toll on the social fabric of communities, places a heavy economic cost on future growth, and reduces trust in governments and institutions. It is no exaggeration to say that this could put at risk the democratic process as people may become permanently disengaged if they feel that governments of all stripes no longer work for them.”

One of the key observations of the Fairer Fife Commission was that while inequality was certainly a moral issue for some, it is also an under-recognised but critical economic and social issue for every single one of us. When I was invited to chair the Commission I was sure about the moral case. I am now convinced of the economic and social case for fairness.

We had a great membership of Commissioners - all of whom agreed without hesitation to spend time and considerable effort on gathering evidence, reviewing it, visiting and listening to people and drafting the final report. We wanted our report, which we called Fairness Matters, to be accessible and ambitious but also practical and achievable. You will have to judge for yourself if we achieved our aims.

The Commission devised its own working definition of fairness as there is no generally accepted one. We sought to arrive at a definition which was both optimistic and much wider than material deprivation. We settled on the following. A fair Fife is where all residents have the capability to lead good lives, make choices and reach their full potential and where all children are safe, healthy and happy. The last phrase was taken directly from the evidence given to us by looked-after children in Fife. They spent an engaging and enjoyable morning with Commissioners telling their stories and hopes for the future.

Fairness is not simply an objective for one service, organisation or sector. We argue there is a need to develop a shared commitment to fairness and promote ways of working across policy and sectors. We used the term ‘mega-community’. This is taken from USA where it is argued the wicked issues of the 21st century; “cannot be solved by government, business or civil society alone. It takes a mega-community of all three.” The Commission was often told about the gross defects and deficiencies of another sector or service by a different sector or service. Early on we established the rule that you could not criticise a sector or service that was not in the room. This led to significantly more constructive and much shorter meetings!

The Commission was impressed by the extensive quality and quantity of data on poverty and inequality. We are very definitely a data-rich society. However we concluded that describing inequality has far more status than trying to resolve it. Much more needs to be done to use the data to help and support change and also to reinforce and replicate innovations that the evidence says work. We recommended Fife Partnership create a ‘knowledge hub’ which would amalgamate data and analytics from the partners.

We made 40 recommendations in all. Our central theses was that Fife Community Planning Partnership should be even more ambitious in its aspirations. We asked that by 2030 Fife be in the top 5 of all Scottish local authorities for all the fairness measure we identified. The recommendations were across and between the sectors. For example the Fife voluntary sector has to encourage 35,494 more volunteers to make in to the ‘top 5 spot’. The further and higher education sectors has to ensure there are 15,340 more people with qualifications. The private sector has to find ways to increase the median wage by £55.30 a week. The NHS has to find ways to improve the mental health of 9,530 people. And so the list of recommendations goes on. We tried hard to make the numbers as precise as possible from the evidence available to us. By being so precise with numbers we hoped to focus attention on the human side rather than statistics.

We had no doubt that Fife has hugely capable, knowledgeable and committed people working in all sectors. In our view Fife could make a very considerable contribution to a fairer Scotland. After all Fife Council alone is due to spend £15billion and 230,000 years of staff time over the period to 2030. Viewed at this scale, the challenge of affecting the life chances of the 75,000 people living in poverty in Fife does not look insurmountable. We recognised that Fife, as with all local authorities, works within a context of decisions made by the Scottish Government and the UK Government. The worst case scenario is where Fife spends its limited (but still very considerable) human and financial resources trying to mitigate the effect of policies it did not make. This is the challenge for the wider Fairer Scotland debate and decisions.

We used the term ‘mega-community’. This is taken from USA where it is argued the wicked issues of the 21st century; “cannot be solved by government, business or civil society alone. It takes a mega-community of all three.”

David Ross, the leader of Fife Council took a considerable political risk in establishing an independent Commission to give advice and recommendations on fairness. I hope we have done justice to his confidence that the Fairer Fife Commission would add value and energy to improving fairness in the Kingdom of Fife.

Martyn Evans
Is Chief Executive of Carnegie Trust UK – which is based in Dunfermline

By Martyn Evans, Chief Executive, Carnegie Trust UK

Issue 13

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