Do you know what ward you live in? Do you know the name of the elected member of council who represents your ward? Did you vote for them? Do you know how to get in contact with them?
If I am completely honest, until recently, I could only answer the last question and that was only because I vaguely know that council websites have the direct contact details for elected council members! I blame my transient London lifestyle and the fact I never stay in one ward area long enough to vote.
Why am I bleating on about this you wonder? Well, I listened live to the NICE webinar yesterday looking at the transition of public health to local authorities. It focussed particularly on:
- Commissioning in local authorities
- Using evidence in public health
- Commissioning good value public health programmes
- Moving public health into local authorities: how NICE can help
It was hugely informative but I came away with sense of urgency to get out there and win the hearts and minds of every elected member in the country in support of the recovery agenda.
What was starkly clear from the discussion yesterday – if we didn’t already know – was the potential for some issues to be de-prioritised at the local level, especially those that are complex, stigmatised, hidden or difficult to address. Elected members have a duty to represent the concerns of their constituency. But what if they don’t know of, fail to engage or simply ignore parts of their constituency? Look at who votes in local elections and you might get a sense of the views that are being represented and those that are missing. It's not new news that those who are socially excluded 'are less likely to turn out to vote and less likely to participate in non-electoral ways.'
Add to that the advice being passed down to Health and Wellbeing Boards that they limit their strategy to focus on just 3-4 issues. Where do you think drug and alcohol issues will feature on the priority list alongside obesity, smoking, cancer, and the aging population? During the NICE event, a poll asking listeners to vote for what the priorities in their community suggested it might come second (to obesity) but this might be expected given the likely profession of most listeners. I’m a little more sceptical about it coming second amongst the wider voting public.
I’m in danger of being overly pessimistic here. Localism brings a number of advantages to the recovery field especially in those areas that have a healthy evidence base, well-informed local experts (in the right place), strong partnerships and the pro-active engagement of more than the just the usual voting public. We suggest that a good starting point for this is to create broad Recovery Alliances but more on this another time.
The transition to public health in local authorities is going to be an interesting journey – one of the speakers even suggested that the first phase will be a transition to the transition, so I’m not even sure whether the road is ready yet! So if you’re pioneering the recovery revolution, as I know many of you are, my suggestion would be to get a head start in making the path by walking it so that when the sat-navs get switched on across local government, the route is lined with a visible and integrated presence of recovery.