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No time for silos

I recently attended an NHS Northwest/Serco event to discuss partnership working in relation to the health services and the Work Programme. Everyone, it seems, accepts there is a logic that work (good work, that is) improves people’s health, and that good employment practice can prevent people developing health problems, especially mental health issues, which may lead to absence and worklessness.

The director from Serco was keen to push the need for broad partnerships if we are to meet our goals and the needs of the population. I pointed out that that the partnership in that sense needs to be much bigger: we had only one side of the equation in the room.  All those in the room are focused on ensuring people are work ready or fit to work – but who creates the jobs?

In the new world order we need to engage the local enterprise partnerships and those applying to the Regional Growth Fund in these discussions – these people will be key to creating the jobs on which the success of the Work Programme and measures to improve the health and wellbeing of our people will surely rely.

But what about the skills? We could do with that agenda being represented as well – how else do we truly prepare our current and future workforce? If this planning is not in tandem with the job creators, we have missed a trick.

Come to think of it, where are the local authorities in this discussion? They are a key employer and their procurement practices are going to impact on all of the above. I would like some advice from the environmental sector as well, because environment is closely linked to our health and if we create new industries without taking into consideration our environmental constraints we will only cause further problems down the line.

I also recently met with people working on integrated offender management – when I think about that agenda I wonder if we need some criminal justice expertise too. Housing also has to be central, so we need the Homes and Communities Agency in the game too.

I’m starting to get a feel now for what we need and what sort of partnership, but what sort of scale could we do this on?

Well, that is not so easy. We could do some of this at the ‘hyper local’ level – and initiatives like local integrated services are an excellent start.  In the era of localism we could perhaps develop a partnership, that could be local and strategic too – ever come across anything like that?

My concern in coming to grips with the geographies is that we are increasingly creating new ones that are not coterminous and have more confusing and conflicting boundaries than ever. This will create greater barriers to partnership working, lead to more costly engagement of stakeholders, and make the collaboration we need to ‘get out of the mess we are in’ harder than ever.

During the development of Future North West (was to be the integrated regional strategy) there were examples of excellent partnership working and evidence you can bring all the partners together and develop a shared agenda to create a strategy that took into consideration economic growth, alongside our environmental needs, married with the needs of our people.

Let’s not lose that learning within the LEPs and the new developing geographies. Let’s not lose our learning from good local strategic partnerships. Things are tough and I fear people are returning to silos, but now more than ever we need to ensure we work together – public, private and third sector – to provide a balanced economy that allows us to realise the potential of all our communities.

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