Early action and good governance


  • Communities

Following from my post the other day I invited David Robinson founder of Community Links and Chair of the Early Action Task Force to post a few thoughts on the link between governance and preventative action.

I am just about to contribute to a seminar launching ‘Oldham’s Co-Operative council: A Social Productivity Framework’, a report by the 2020 Public Services  Hub. Oldham is committed to a new ethic, and new models, of community leadership but the question we need to explore more deeply is the connection between governance and policy and, more specifically, how does more open, responsible and ethical leadership facilitate better decisions making, for example – as David says below – focussing on the longer term, or seeing local social assets as being dispersed widely in the community not simply being those things controlled by thr council and its partners.

All organisations need good governance to succeed.  Large and complex ones like local authorities have to work at it continuously -  challenging, building and sustaining the skills, the protocols, the culture and the capacity to generate the best outcomes. Matthew is right to argue that a more preventative approach would be a consequence of better governance. It may even be dependant upon it but earlier action is more than that. It is also an urgent priority in its own right. A priority for which good governance is necessary but not sufficient. 

As we have shown, progress on prevention has been consistently obstructed by rules and processes which prioritise short term planning and deliver acute, fear driven, crisis led services rescuing not preventing. 

Every council leader can sketch their own “Barnet graph of doom” depicting  the probable point, often  not very far away, when the money runs out for all but the most essential statutory functions and then the point at which even these services will be unaffordable. Health service managers talk in similar terms about spending trajectories on the “3Ds” – dementia, diabetes and depression.  We need to change structures and systems to reduce need, to arrest these imminent and escalating liabilities and to unleash the triple dividend – thriving lives, costing less and contributing more. 

We need 10 year spending plans reviewed every 2 to 3 years and spending rules which treat early action as an investment, Transition Plans committed to cross cutting outcomes, a duty on all public bodies to think of the future and a range of  incentives and sanctions to break down silos including profit sharing, early action premiums and responsibility charging. 

These are practical ideas which the Early Action Task Force explains further in a second report to be published in November. Some are already underway but many have a price: There will be short term losers as well as long term winners. That’s why we also need strong and capable leadership. Matthew suggests that the critical local variables might include the degree of interagency collaboration, civic engagement and social innovation. I think we should be looking also for the ability to handle challenge and change, for a commitment to distributing not hoarding skills and resources and above all for the capacity to think, to plan and to budget not just for the next couple of years but for the longer term. 

Assessing and building these capabilities may be difficult but many public services are struggling at the moment and will soon be unaffordable. They are unsustainable. Good governance is necessary but not sufficient.  Whole systems change is unavoidable. We need it to be structural and systemic, thoughtful, rigorous and sustained – a measured revolution but a revolution none the less. 

David Robinson, Chair, Early Action Task Force


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