Locality has long been talking about the risks of outsourcing public services at scale – from our 2014 report, Saving Money by Doing the Right Thing, which highlighted the ‘diseconomies of scale’, to action research with six local authorities last year, as detailed in Powerful Communities, Strong Economies. This investigated the alternative – working with local organisations to deliver public services – and its impact on local economic resilience.
Keep it Local
Earlier this year, in partnership with Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales we launched our Keep it Local Network to build momentum around this approach. It will bring together councillors, commissioners, community organisations and policy experts, to explore new approaches to the commissioning and funding of local services.
Commissioning for services that transform lives
At our first event as part of the network, we brought together clinical experts, community organisations and local government officials in Leeds to discuss ways of working that draws on the strengths of all sectors for the benefit of a place.
We discussed a local authority’s unique role in this mix and its role as a commissioner of services. We wanted to investigate how, as local authority leaders, you can harness the power of community to create better, more responsive services that invest in the local economy. The focus here is specifically on ‘person-centred’ services – from homelessness to employment support, children’s services to adult social care – that will drive down pressure on the public sector in the long-term and community organisations are especially well-placed to deliver.
In short, we believe that if commissioners (and the local government leaders which set the parameters for their practice) follow a number of principles and work more closely with their communities, they can commission services which transform the lives of the people they serve.
An approach which does just this is the Neighbourhood Network Scheme, which first began development in Leeds in 1985, and was highlighted as an example of inspiring practice by many attendees at the event. It’s a programme which, at its very core, recognises the importance of having a community-based service. Across Leeds there are 37 Neighbourhood Networks, all of which are run by local third sector organisations – groups which are rooted in the communities they serve.
The scheme was designed and developed to improve the lives of older people in the city by providing a variety of support focused on reducing social isolation and improving health and wellbeing. Commissioning is done on an outcomes-based model. Community organisations have to deliver against four areas: increasing contribution and involvement; improving choice and control; improving wellbeing and healthier life choices; and reducing social isolation.
But then, each of the networks delivers a tailored range of services according to the needs of the local place and the people living there. We recently met with Leeds City Council about the scheme, and they shared several lessons they have learned throughout its development over the past thirty years:
Grants play a valuable role in the funding mix for community-based schemes
Neighbourhood Networks work best when taking an asset-based community development (ABCD) approach
Commissioners need to value evidence through stories and qualitative experience – this is often where the most critical prevention outcomes can be seen
Enabling commissioners to focus on relationships, and spend time with communities, is vital
A model for local government
At a time when local authority budgets are shrinking, demand for services is rising, and systems are becoming ever more complex, local government is having to consider how it continues to deliver high quality services that meet residents’ expectations. The forthcoming Spending Review represents a clear opportunity for local government to speak with one voice to argue that it is reaching a cliff edge, and needs to be adequately funded.
However, a shift towards a more collaborative, place-based approach to the provision of ‘person-centred’ public services – like that demonstrated in the Neighbourhood Networks – is also key. One that recognises the power and assets often lying latent in communities, and the potential for this to have a transformative effect if harnessed correctly by those commissioning services. Investment in prevention is critical to securing the future of our public services, and the neighbourhood-level is where this approach is most effective.
We’d love to hear from anyone with an interest in finding innovative ways to reshape local services – so please do join the Keep it Local Network and get in touch (email@example.com) if you’d like us to host a Network event in your local authority.