Do you employ unreasonable people?

Robert Ashton

I got talking last week with Dave Sweeney, head of transformation at Halton Council. His role is jointly funded by the local clinical commissioning group, enabling him to ‘join up’ health and social care commissioning with obvious benefits for all, not least those who use frontline services.

He’d just spoken at the Social Value conference staged by Social Enterprise UK. He’s an interesting guy who opened his talk with a slide showing that, in a past life he was lead singer in a punk band. How enlightened, I thought, that the traditionally cautious public sector should create such a role and appoint a guy who I don’t doubt would describe himself as unconventional.

I was flattered to learn that he’d spotted me from the stage, his eyes drawn to my longish grey beard and pink socks. He said they marked me out as someone different in a sea of conventionally dressed delegates. (I don’t always wear pink socks!)

We talked about opportunities. I’d love to see education and health commissioning joined up in Norfolk, where I’m on the board of a cooperative trust of ten complex needs schools. Here it would make real sense to join up education funding with that for classroom health support, speech and language therapy and the like.

It seems so wrong that it should be such a struggle to get the right support for some of our most severely disabled youngsters. Frankly their parents and teachers have enough on their plate as it is. There’s an opportunity here for some with an unconventional view of the world to challenge tradition and revolutionise service delivery. Ironically this would probably save money too!

Swarm Apprenticeships, the social business I founded a couple of years ago attracts unconventional young people. Too often, they’ve been told they’ve failed because the choose not to follow the herd. Yet if you read around the subject of intelligence and how bright kids frequently drop out. Quite simply its because they’re not adequately recognised or supported. You can quickly see that employing these young people whilst we deliver enterprise training,

Swarm has recently partnered with the RSA, itself an organisation that has long attracted unconventional people. I’ve been a Fellow there for some 12 years, enjoying the opportunities that presents for truly wide ranging debate with interesting people.

Our government faces a ‘perfect storm’ as demand for services grows and available funding diminishes. I hope it soon recognises that to deal with these crises by adding regulation is unlikely to spark the innovations we need to see if we are to avoid potentially apocalyptic consequences.

To paraphrase a well known Bertrand Russell quotation: ‘Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world and unreasonable ones seeks to change it. Therefore all progress depends upon unreasonable people!’


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Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur, author, campaigner and charity patron:

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1 Comment

  • Dave Seeeney

    Great to meet you Rob, your passion for equity in young people alongside your common sense approach was infectious. Keep up the Barefoot bashing mate

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