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Partnership working needed in these ‘dark times’, says RSA

Councils must forge new partnerships with the NHS and community groups if they are to cope with the ‘dark times’ ahead, according to a new report by the Royal Society (RSA).

A report published today, entitled Transforming Together: Leading for People and Place, warns partnerships are necessary as local authorities face a ‘double whammy’ of rising demand and falling budgets.

It warns many critical issues cannot be solved by one organisation alone, and encourages council leaders to build new partnerships, which focus on citizens and places, not organisations.

According to the report, the best partnerships have approached local challenges with creativity, optimism and determination, and have engaged frontline workers and residents in the partnership process, helping to build a ‘shared ethos’.

The report cites the example of Wigan council’s ‘The Deal’ approach, which has helped local communities become more independent and resilient.

As part of ‘The Deal’, the council has invested £7.5m in local organisations over the last four years through a community investment fund.

‘In 2011 we realised that we need to do something quite radically different, and “The Deal” was our internal response and our external partnership response,’ said chief executive, Donna Hall.

‘We needed to work on a consistent demand reduction strategy, and that is what “The Deal” is. It’s a holistic strategy. It permeates everything we do. It’s about local people’s rights and responsibilities.’

The report highlights case studies where councils are already succeeding in working together with other organisations, including the Surrey Carers Partnership, which supports unpaid carers in a variety of ways.

The partnership involves more than 100 different organisations, including Surrey county council, six clinical commissioning groups and voluntary groups.

It has developed an online ‘carer’s prescription’, which allows people from different agencies to refer someone for appropriate support from various possible services. According to the report, the prescription scheme costs less than £1,000 a year to run.

The carers themselves also help to determine the priorities for the partnership and form three quarters of the membership of the board of one of the key organisations, Action for Carers.

In the report, partnership manager Debbie Hustings, who is employed by two of the local clinical commissioning groups, stressed the importance of ‘working with the willing’, rather than bullying organisations into being part of the partnership.

‘We work with the organisations that are ready for the journey, and bring along the others when they are ready,’ said Ms Hustings. ‘You can’t push them. It doesn’t work.

The partnership also encouraged each organisation to develop its own carers’ action plan. ‘We throw ideas out,’ she added. ‘We are not prescriptive about what organisations should do.’

Other examples include a joint programme by Cheshire East council, local schools and the NHS to create emotionally healthy schools and an integrated health and social care partnership in South Tyneside.

‘This report’s important insights build on many years of work in public service reform by the RSA,’ said chief executive, Matthew Taylor.

‘Relationships and innovation are key to ensuring that local public services are delivered in a way that is both relevant and effective.

‘These are difficult times for many local public services but, in highlighting the good work that is being done in some of the most innovative local areas, this report offers support for council senior managers and other public sector leaders in how they might achieve even more,’ added Mr Taylor.

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