The Care Act 2014: Easier Said Than Done

DL – Care Act April15

The Care Act 2014 is an important and difficult piece of legislation. The intention of the act is to give service users a choice over their care service provision. It also shifts the responsibility for care service provision from the public sector to individual service users.
So how is this working out? Well, as part of the Care Act, public sector bodies are expected to produce market position statements for the services they procure. This is a new procedure and consultations are taking place to determine what the statements will cover and the procedures that will take place.
Newcastle City Council, to take one example, is consulting about its draft Market Position Statement for information and advice, and advocacy. The document has already been drafted, presumably, by council staff.
This raises the question whether other public sector bodies will adopt the same old assumptive approach? Or will they take their communities seriously and carry out a genuine consultation?

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Good Intentions

DL NCVS – Good Intentions published March 2015

Good Intentions is a complexity-informed study of Neighbourhood-Based Organisations (NBOs) in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was published in March 2015 by Newcastle CVS.
NBOs are unique in many ways. They have the ability to engage with communities in a way that cannot be easily replicated by public or private sector organisations or larger charities.
NBOs do this because they often reflect the communities they work with. They do this by providing a way for local people to get involved, to bring their own knowledge and experience and tp develop new skills and confidence. NBOs provide a trusted source of support and advocacy when people experience difficulties. They are agile in responding to changes and issues affecting local communities.
However, many NBOs are themselves in a vulnerable position.
In 2012 Newcastle CVS published a report on NBOs working with young people. The report found NBOs at a pivotal moment, grappling with an increasing marketisation of public services and an accompanying commissioning regime that for many did not fit easily with their values and actions. For Good Intentions, NCVS asked me to revisit those NBOs to find out how their circumstances have changed and what has developed. Along the way, I made new contacts and formed new views that are included in the report.
Good Intentions finds NBOs continuing to provide support and opportunities for local people. Working through a number of emerging themes, the report reveals some NBOs are ill at ease with a continuing shift amongst public sector agencies to contracting. Grant funding remains important and is generally preferred to contracting or trading.
Good Intentions highlights the pressures in funding core costs and the challenge of participating in networks, forums and training, to stay informed and connected when many NBOs have only a small staff team. Good Intentions finds a determination amongst NBOs to continue even if this means turning to largely volunteer led activities. The risk here is that NBOs become further marginalised from contributing to citywide initiatives or maintaining up to date safeguarding practices.
Good Intentions finds that NBOs have largely rejected the drive from policy makers and to some extent funders for voluntary sector organisations to become deliverers of public services, adopt social enterprise models and embrace new funding mechanisms such as social finance. What NBOs are doing is holding close to the needs of communities and seeking to meet local needs on local people’s terms. This may place NBOs outside of current policy, practice and finance frameworks, and leave some facing a bleak future. The challenge for public sector agencies and other interested organisations is how to recognise the value of NBOs, support them to continue in the unique space they occupy and involve NBOs so that the expertise they have informs wider policy and practice.

A Complexity Approach to Communities

David Large – Complexity and Communities 2015

This work applies concepts from complexity science to the research and assessment of communities, in particular, ‘adaptability’, ‘attractors’, ‘emergence’, ‘interactions’ and ‘self-organisation’.
Communities are noted for their ability to self-organise and to adapt to local circumstances. What is not so clear is whether they are able to adapt as easily to changing national and international circumstances. For example, attractors are factors pulling towards a certain state in the future. If a community organisation has received regular council funding in the past it may bid for council funding in the future. Many attractors are persistent and hard to displace. If they are removed then the community organisation may be left in a state of uncertainty.
The situation for communities is constantly changing. Consider, for example, the impact of the recent government-imposed austerity reductions. The complexity approach can be used to examine the current ability of communities to adapt and to re-organise. To do this their interactions with their neighbourhood, their service-users, their funders or others are assessed and a number of factors will be found to emerge, both positive and negative. In analysing these factors patterns are sought and the attractors are identified.
To do this an innovative, two-stage interview methodology is developed. The first stage involves asking people involved about certain topics. Here the conversation is free but not unconstrained for certain cues are provided for guidance. The second stage takes the key points from the first conversation and asks the interviewee to reflect and comment on them focusing on the complexity factors present, for example ‘self-organisation’.
The case study material is analysed using the complexity approach devised – interactions are sought, subsequent iterations are studied. From this analysis emergent factors are identified. All of this is done in the terms used by those interviewed and involved.
In this way the approach is shown to understand communities in their own terms, to engage with the issues that are important for them and to stimulate positive ideas for future development.

Thoroughly Modern Miliband?

Modernisation is widely regarded as desirable yet, at the same time, no one seems sure exactly what it means.
The drive for modernisation in government began under Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) and gathered pace under John Major (1990-1997). The pace increased under New Labour, first with Tony Blair (1997-2007) and then Gordon Brown (2007-2010) (Giddens, 2007). David Cameron picked up on modernisation as part of a drive for government savings to sit alongside his austerity programme (Maude, 2013). Now Ed Miliband is promising further modernisation as part of Labour’s One Nation policy review.
For New Labour modernisation was about changing governance to address cross-cutting policy issues such as child poverty, community cohesion and employment that required co-operation from more than one department (New Policy Institute, 2013). Further they sought policy solutions based on trust in external organisations, formed from networks involving both government and relevant groups (Klijn & Skelcher, 2007). However, trust takes time and forming networks requires willingness to take part. Following slow progress with inter-departmental co-operation in central government, New Labour’s second term of office adopted a more straightforward top-down approach. Cross-cutting targets originally co-ordinated from Downing Street and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) were transferred to the Treasury and became closely linked to expenditure (Cairney, 2009).
Since 2010, Cameron’s Coalition government has been implementing their version of modernisation. Where Blair and Brown saw modernisation as increasing efficiency, for the Coalition modernisation is focussed on reducing inefficiency. Hence it is used as a banner for cuts to government and government services. The rationale for this is that it is in tune with Britain (Maude, 2013). In practice this means fiscal caution, free market promotion and a smaller state that is Eurosceptic and pro-business (Bale, 2013).
Shrinking the state may be beneficial to those who do not rely on the state or are not employed by the state. But what about those whose well-being depends on public services? What about those whose livelihood is provided by the public sector? These are the people who are set to lose out from such an approach (Reed, 2011). Nevertheless, the Conservative part of the Coalition sees modernisation as evolutionary and hence on-going and never ending (Maude, 2013). This means that Tory modernisation mixes symbols and substance. In terms of policy development it is an attitude rather than a reasoned position or manifesto (Room, 2012).
The Coalition is working towards a post-bureaucratic age. By this they mean that technology and our desire for more control over our lives, together with a growing unease about centralised, top-down solutions, has led to a demand for services that are locally determined, locally accountable, more flexible, delivered faster, and that are tailored to the needs of individual service-user. Putting this form of modernism together with its own brand of localism, the Coalition can see the potential for an unmediated relationship between local people and central government, and the government-funded services they receive (HMG, 2013). At the same time, however, the Coalition has been making big cuts to public expenditure so removing resources and reducing capacity that could have been used to create or enhance local networks and embed the Big Society (Pugalis & McGuinness, 2013).
At the moment, it is not clear that the Coalition really intends this to happen. It may be that their brand of modernisation is about simplifying the processes of government rather than about policy. In other words, it is not so much what they do as how they do it. For example, the Contestable Policy Fund and the Government Digital Service have cut some middle-ranking officer posts (Maude, 2013). But how much support there is for this sort of modernisation is not clear (Bale, 2013).
So what’s next for modernisation? Where will it go after the 2015 general election? Well, maybe the time has come to leave modernisation behind. Maybe what we need is a clear view of what is happening now and a set of policies to deal with the current situation. After all, the commitment to a modernising ideal is so twentieth century.

References

Bale, T. (2013) ‘What the Modernisers Did Next: From Opposition to Government and Beyond’, Juncture, 20 (2), London: IPPR.
Cairney, P. (2009) ‘Implementation and the Governance Problem’, Public Policy and Administration, 24 (4), pp. 355 – 377.
Giddens, A. (2007) Over to you Mr Brown. Cambridge: Polity Press.
HMG (2013) The Coalition: Together in the National Interest: Mid-Term Review. London: TSO.
Klijn, E. and Skelcher, C. (2007) ‘Democracy and Governance Networks: Compatible or Not?’, Public Administration, 85 (3), pp. 587 – 608.
Maude, F. (2013) ‘No Resting on Laurels’, Juncture, 20 (2), pp. 144 – 145.
New Policy Institute (2013) Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2013. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Pugalis, L. and McGuinness, D. (2013) ‘From a Framework to a Toolkit: Urban Regeneration in an Age of Austerity’, Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal, 6 (4), pp. 339 – 353
Reed, H. (2011) The Shrinking State: Why the Rush to Outsource Threatens Our Public Services. London: Unite.
Room, G. (2012) ‘Evolution and the Arts of Civilisation’, Policy and Politics, 40 (4), pp. 453 – 471.