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.
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.
I’ve been working with Donna Roberts from Dudley MBC and Keeley Wright, a volunteer with Dudley CVS to review lots of different reports and notes from local activities to draw out ideas about how we could improve the ways that people and communities can have influence in response to changes in the public sector (such as the NHS and the council).
We would like to bring this together into a practical guide for colleagues, and have invited members of the online Our Society network to help us to do this. It’s free and simple to join the Our Society network, so if you’d like to get involved, here is the group for the development of the Guide (you will need to join the network and then the group in order to add comments).
Our Society: A Guide for Dudley is likely to include the following chapters:
- Introduction – policy context and drivers, local activity etc. and articulation of a vision and an approach
- Changing roles – describing new and emerging roles, skills required to undertake them, support which might be needed and practical steps to move forward
- Rethinking structures as networks and systems – evidence of this shift, local examples, online examples … and practical steps to shifting thinking
- Identifying existing and new social assets – approaches to recognising and mapping assets (by which we mean people and skills as well as bricks and mortar), examples, practical support and advice
- Methods – toolkits, frameworks, knowledge hub, and more
- Practical steps which Dudley can take towards an empowering response to public service reform, localism, ‘big society’ etc.
Please feel free to post comments and ideas here as well as to the Our Society network.
extract from Our Society in Dudley Borough discussion, posted on 13 March 2011 to http://www.oursociety.org.uk/group/dudley/forum
On 9 March Dudley’s Stronger Communities Steering Group met and discussed progress and plans in relation to Our Society. The following is my summary of the discussion.
Strategic buy in
Support for strategic approach to Our Society from Local Strategic Partnership Board: it was confirmed that there had been strong support from the Board and they were very pleased with the approach.
Existing work and tools
The Planning Policy Team would like to know more about Voice, which may help them especially in the light of anticipated changes in legislation.
Planning Policy, Urban Design and the Sustainability Team are interested in using echo, possibly together, and are keen to see if it can help to unblock opportunities in policy such as site development.
West Midlands Police are also interested in working with echo.
Dudley CVS confirmed that Building Blocks support can be provided to social enterprises.
It was confirmed that the Take Part learning programmes address issues around inclusion.
There was discussion around the different strands of work in relation to assets, and the need for a strategic approach. An asset mapping and rating activity being undertaken will help to reduce unnecessary public sector spend on assets, hopefully diverting spend to service delivery. This is different to asset transfer activity, which has a focus on empowerment. There is a also a need to look as the value of a range of buildings such as community centres, many are marginal, relocating public servants to them could help to keep them open and serving communities.
Dudley MBC response to Big Society
Dudley MBC is developing a framework for their wider Big Society strategy, to include a vision of what the council should be, a collective understanding of how Our Society compliments this, and a structured way for each core service to review services in relation to defined outcomes.
Dosti/DudleyCVS to host an event for the voluntary, community and faith sector to discuss Our Society and ways that they would like to take it forward – anticipated date: early May
Dudley MBC to agree response to Big Society
Dudley Community Partnership Board to have a meeting focusing on Our Society in May
Task groups to take forward activity to be established in June.
A focus on tackling inequalities is to be explicit in plans.
Locality are inviting expressions of interest for host organisations (see http://www.dta.org.uk/whatsnew/hottopics/communityorganisers) Dudley CVS will investigate this further and may submit an expression of interest