PAS held an event recently in partnership with “LSP Futures” – a group that represents many LSPs. It was interesting to me as it is one of the first events following our decision to broaden our audience. The event attempted to bring together those responsible for the SCS and the LDF, so they could better understand each others roles.
The event was well attended, and the feedback was generally excellent. You can find the slides here. The event itself followed a programme that’s been running for the last year called “Delivering the Common Vision” – the report on which has just been published.
I’ve been doing a fair amount of work with LSPs over the last year, but even so I was struck by the enormous variety of organizations present. At the leading edge we had very well organized and focused places, who were already collaborating around data observatories and working in a coherent way. At the opposite end we had some extremely busy and harassed people who were forced to shoehorn all their LSP responsibilities into one afternoon a week.
Much of what we discussed on the day is not new in principle – it is probably covered by “prevention is better than cure”, “many hands make light work” and possibly “necessity is the mother of invention”. At its heart, however, while the messages might be simple and common sense we work in organizations that are happiest as a set of separate boxes. The silo mentality is even more marked when you traverse across the Local Authority, PCT, police and other big players.
One of the interesting challenges is not what people say – everyone agrees that they should work collaboratively – but what they actually do. If people don’t have a joint project plan linking the SCS and LDF, don’t use a shared evidence base and don’t collaborate on their consultations then they are still – despite their protestations – in a silo.
The facilitators from the day have been comparing notes. Some of the interesting observations from the tables are summarized below:
- Local Area Agreements – very different views on the relevance / importance of the LAA. Some of the obvious territorial issues in two-tier authorities but also some people have done the sums and realized that chasing the LAA funding is less valuable than the potential money available from effective working across the partnership. There’s a slide doing the rounds that sets out the revenue budgets of the partners in a county LSP – it doesn’t take a large percentage improvement in how one spends £7 billion to make a difference that dwarfs the LAA pot. There were also some fairly pointed descriptions of how the LAA negotiation process had less inclusive than it might.
- Private sector – despite the essential involvement of the private sector (think housebuilding) they are still both physically and symbolically absent from local authority thinking. I’m sure Covey would be trying to create the “win-win” situation that demonstrates what’s in it for both parties in an electorate-proof arrangement.
- Language – we need to be very careful how we describe what we’re doing. Language both acts as a barrier by surrounding important issues in public sector gobbledygook and also limits peoples thinking. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get straight the differences between “targets”, “indicators”, “outcomes”, “impact” etc – so I recognize the pitfalls here. We need to be simple and consistent, and find ways to explain sometimes complicated situations clearly.
“Making it real”
The event finished by exploring how the various groups were taking these issues forwards. One of the most powerful comments from the delegates was around the issue of changing behaviour. Achievement of many of the most common LAA targets requires changing the behaviour of populations – this is not something that planners are used to thinking about. I suspect that ‘place shaping’ has always been slightly more biased towards the ‘place’ rather than recognizing the people that inhabit it.
Some of the more interesting plans that people discussed were
- Social marketing : ensuring that there was a more rounded way of achieving consensus. This goes way beyond traditional consultation around issues & options, and attempts to directly influence behaviour.
- Neighbourhood profiling : several people had talked over the course of the day how their traditional ward-level analysis had actually hidden interesting issues. One well-to-do area next to a deprived area averages out to somewhere ‘normal’. Not everyone should be a GIS expert able to choose appropriate levels of aggregation on the fly, so some people were going to make place-specific (neighbourhood) levels of statistics. This lower-level package of statistics would both inform plans at the outset and also act as a marker for the success of delivery.
- Locality plans : a linked idea was the idea of having sub-plans of the SCS. One way of tackling the problem of relevance in an SCS was having lower-level plans. I don’t think anyone mentioned the phrase ‘parish plans’, but in retrospect having another tier of plan to keep in phase and up-to-date would need a strong business case.
We’re going to consider whether to hold similar events in the future along with our colleagues from the IDeA. Personally, despite feeling like death warmed up, I found the day one of the best I’ve been involved with.