In February the Our Society Our Solutions Group invited members of the Local Authority’s Corporate Board, and the Leader of the Council, to a joint meeting to explore the potential for collaborating on projects which would leave to assets and services in Dudley Borough being managed in a holistic way. The meeting took place on Friday 24th February and was attended by Our Society Our Solutions Group members, Our Society Steering Group members and John Polychronakis (DMBC Chief Executive), Jane Porter (DMBC Acting Director of Children’s Service), Valerie Little (Director of Public Health) and John Millar (DMBC Director of the Urban Environment).
The objectives of meeting were:
- To share the work that the Our Society Our Solutions Group have been undertaking and to explore how it relates to the work of the Local Authority (specifically regarding Localism and transformation)
- To propose and discuss a process for taking MASH (Managing Assets and Services Holistically) projects forward collaboratively
- To agree who could initially be involved in MASH projects and when activities will take place.
A summary of main points and agreements from the meeting are provided below.
- Our Society Our Solutions groups do not primarily want funding from Dudley Council, it is about collaboration, having good communication and dialogue and better sharing and using of resources together;
- The Council is open to ideas from people and groups now and in future years regarding the efficient use of budgets and the provision of services, including collaboratively;
- Regarding the Community Right to Challenge and consequent procurement process, the Council prefers to contract with smaller and more local organisation (e.g. VCSF organisations, local business, social enterprises) rather than giving contracts to large national organisations;
- Contracting with VCFS organisations presents a different relationship dynamic that needs to be considered by voluntary organisations;
- Our Society Our Solutions organisations want to show the value of their services to Dudley Council through methods that capture qualitative information, stories of success and the positive changes made to peoples lives (rather than just statistics and ticking boxes);
- The Council is supportive of voluntary organisations and council services being co-located within buildings to promote multi-use, collaboration and financial savings;
- The Council’s Volunteering Strategy could be refreshed to move it in the direction of a networking / matching service to enable mutual exchange of skills / knowledge / time between voluntary and community groups and council staff (recognising the sensitivities around job displacement);
- The Council supports the development of mechanisms to develop collaborative solutions to issues such as budget savings and service improvements;
- All agreed that the Council cannot provide all the solutions to the issues we face and there must be an element of self-help. It was recognised however, that citizens and community groups sometimes need support and removal of barriers to help themselves and that the council will still have a major role to play in providing unlocking this capacity.
- Due to time constraints and the level of information exchange and discussion taken place, it was agreed that it would not be possible to make much progress with the second and third objective for the meeting, though this had some airing in the main body of the meeting.
- John Polychronakis, Jane Porter, Valerie Little and John Millar suggested that they to come together again with the Our Society Our Solutions group to develop a joint plan to take forward a few important areas of work highlighted in the discussions. (A further meeting is planned for the second half of April and will be open to a wider group of participants.)
Photos and twitter discussion from the evening have been Storified here.
Cooperative Councils have caught our eye here in the Our Society Planning Group. Lambeth Council have a great area on their website explaining aspects of their cooperative approach. We were particularly interested in their 7 key principles:
The cooperative council sets out seven key principles that provide direction for public services. They are:
Principle 1: The council as a strong community leader.
Principle 2: Providing services at the appropriate level personalised and community based.
Principle 3: Citizens and communities empowered to design and deliver services and play an active role in their local community.
Principle 4: Public services enabling residents to engage in civil society through employment opportunities.
Principle 5: A settlement between public services, our communities and the citizen (this is what we provide, this is what you do for yourself) underpinned by our desire for justice, fairness and responsibility.
Principle 6: Taking responsibility for services – regardless of where they are accessed or which agency provides them.
Principle 7: Simple, joined up and easy access to services – location and transaction i.e. “one place to do it all”, “one form, one time to do it all” – providing visible value for money.
Dudley Council have set up a Localism Steering group which will take forward activity in relation to changes through the Localism Act in relation to Planning, Housing, Governance, Community Rights, and more. Our Society activity is also part of what the Localism Steering Group considers, and may help to shape the direction for public services and relationships between Dudley MBC and citizens and communities.
It’s often useful to hear about (and get involved in) things going on in other areas. Isabel Livingstone from South West Forum has provided an excellent write up from an event in the South West: Making Ourselves Heard.
I really like the feedback from discussions about tips for voluntary organisations on influencing the public sector. This one relates to our work in Dudley with Urban Forum on Community Rights:
How do you influence without ‘agressing’? Eg right to challenge is very strong action to take and could cause conflict.
Also included in Isabel’s write up is the following food for thought about the Localism Act:
John Skrine from Creating Excellence gave us a critique of the Localism Act, which in his view holds more threats than opportunities. Read more in his excellent blog post, The Localism Act – Santa or Scrooge. A key point that stood out for me was the example John gave of Exeter Community Centre, which is currently being refurbished after a long process of transferring it to community ownership and management, with the help of grants and a loan from Community Builders. John cautioned that if this had happened after the Localism Act came into force, the community would have had to bid competitively against the private sector for the community centre, and it’s likely that it would have been turned into expensive flats instead.
Time for a round up, as I haven’t managed to post here lately – which is all about to change as we launch in to lots of exciting activity. Here’s what the Our Society Planning Group have been working on:
Activity to test change and develop evidence
We’re keen to explore the real experiences of people involved in activity which relates to ideas in the government’s Localism Act. This includes groups which are moving towards taking over buildings, such as the Lye & Wollescote Cemetery Chapels project, and groups and people who are filling in gaps as public services are cut. An example would be Sarah Freeman, recognised at Dudley’s Volunteer Awards this year for providing a meals on wheels service in the area where she lives.
Working with senior decision-makers
The Dudley Community Partnership (DCP) Board meeting in September was cancelled, though we were able to run discussion sessions with members of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Partnership that month. Feedback from this and the DCP Board meeting in November will be posted to this site soon.
Visit from Cabinet Office
Neil Smith from the Office for Civil Society attended one of Dudley’s Our Society Planning Group meetings and shared information on the government’s Community Organiser programme and the Communities First programme, both of which are running in Dudley Borough (more information here).
Voluntary Sector Network event
Dudley’s Voluntary Sector network hosted an event in July which we contributed to and learned from. People at the event considered the Localism Bill, Asset Transfer and Community Rights. There are videos, photos, blog posts, tweet archives, useful links, and even a graphic recording of the event all at www.vsnjuly2011.posterous.com.
Celebrating community activity
Our approach to Our Society in Dudley Borough seeks to celebrate independent community action, so look out for inspiring stories which Dudley CVS’s Melissa Guest will be posting here over the coming months. Many local volunteers were recognised at Dudley’s annual Volunteer Awards in October.
Developing Dudley Council’s approach
Dudley Council now have a cross-department Our Society group considering the issues facing them as a local authority and how to respond to them within an Our Society approach.
Barriers to our approach
We’re starting to keep a record of barriers that we come across which prevent ideas under the Our Society banner moving forward, or moving forward in a consistent way. These include an absence or depletion of skills which we think are needed, to inconsistent arrangements in relation to, for example, leasing community buildings.
Being open and transparent, and involving YOU!
We hope that the videos and feedback we’ve posted here to date help to share what is happening in our meetings and meetings of Dudley Community Partnership’s Board. We’ve also uploaded Our Society Steering Group papers and links to event feedback and videos. We’ll be posting more regularly now as momentum gains. Later this week we’ll be sharing progress updates on our Community Rights Made Real project with Urban Forum. We invite anyone who is interested to add comments and get discussions going on this site.
We’ve set up a twitter account: @oursocdudley and we plan to circulate regular e-newsletters to stakeholders and subscribers. We may also set up a Facebook page if there is interest. We are planning a large face-to-face event in the Spring which will bring together a lot of what we have been working on and open it all out for a wider discussion and agreement on what steps we should take next in Dudley.
Part of this will involve developing a guide for Our Society, and will be doing this over the coming months in a collaborative way, through the Our Society national online network. It’s free and easy to join, we would love people from Dudley to be involved in the writing process, so please join the site and we’ll update you when the group gets going. Please do leave a comment or get in touch if you’d like to know more or get stuck with any of our online networking places.