Hard to believe, but 2021 marks 10 years since a key report which mapped out the future of public services in Scotland.
The Christie Commission set out four ‘pillars of reform’ in order that services could better meet the needs of people and communities and become more effective and sustainable – empowering individuals and communities, integrating services, prioritising expenditure on prevention and finding efficiencies across the whole system of services. For those of us in local government, these principles underpin everything we do today.
The issues which prompted the Commission – strain on public finances; inequality; increasing demand from demographic changes - are just as relevant today as in 2011. And undoubtedly challenges remain in delivering on Christie’s agenda.
However, I’m proud to say we have many examples of how these principles have shaped impactful initiatives in Dundee over the past decade. Here are just a few which spring to mind:
- Dundee Decides
Delivering on the principle of empowerment, Dundee Decides was the biggest participatory budgeting project undertaken by any Scottish local authority in relation to its mainstream budget, with citizens deciding how to spend over £1 million on projects such as play areas, pedestrian crossings, pavements, lighting and planting. Communities were engaged in selecting the projects to choose from, then individuals were supported to vote for their preferred projects in a range of settings, including overcoming IT, language and health barriers. A comic, a film and social media were used to widen participation, which saw over 11,000 people voting.
- The Crescent in Whitfield and Lochee Community Hub
Tackling integration, The Crescent drives collaboration by placing at the heart of one of Scotland’s most deprived areas a building which brings together community, health and social care services under one roof. It offers ‘one stop’ access to the public while also promoting joint working between organisations, in particular between the NHS and Council. The Crescent also provides facilities such as shops, a café and library, making it a real hub for the estate. Likewise, Lochee Community Hub provides life changing and enhancing services which go right to the heart of inequality in that community, including welfare rights, job club, health checks, adult learning, drop-in for older people, mental health support, support for those using substances and support for children and families.
- Early intervention on Homelessness and Employability
Christie called for more early intervention to prevent problems arising. Dundee’s Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan focuses on prevention, with particular pathways around young people, domestic abuse and prisoners. It aims to end rough sleeping, prevent homelessness occurring, improve temporary accommodation, increase the supply of permanent accommodation and provide appropriate support. The plan was developed in collaboration with health and social care partnerships, registered social landlords and the third sector, and a consortium of local services provides intensive support to sustain tenancies. Also informed by prevention and early intervention, our employability service discovered a large group of people whose success in securing jobs was constrained by mental health issues. They provided specialist mental health employability support alongside clinical support, recognising the beneficial impact work can bring - financial stability, socialisation, sense of purpose and routine.
- Welfare Rights Advisers in GP surgeries
Greater efficiencies have been achieved by our Advice Team through co-locating advisers in GP practices, becoming an integral part of the service for patients. Patients’ concerns are often wrapped up with money worries and how they can afford to meet needs stemming from their medical conditions. Access to medical records allowed advisers to secure over £1.5 million for patients in the first five years, improving wellbeing, reducing stress and providing funds for improved diet.
There are similar examples in every local authority area. But more needs done to make the implementation of the Christie principles even more successful, to accelerate the pace of change and to encourage even greater collaborative working.
The key priorities going forward include ensuring that all partners apply the principles of effective community planning to plan for, resource and provide services which focus on improving outcomes. The Tayside Plan for Children, Young People and Families is a good example of how we can do more. Produced by Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross councils, it reflects shared leadership towards multi-agency cross-border collaboration in the planning, management, commissioning, delivery and evaluation of services to children, young people and families. The Plan also involved NHS Tayside, Police Scotland, health and social care partnerships and other organisations to ensure a consistent approach towards agreed priorities and an absolute focus on improving outcomes for children, young people and families.
Prevention remains key to reducing demand on public services, especially demand arising from poor health, and the challenge is to find more resources to support preventative services (such as change funds and ‘spend to save’ initiatives) while still dealing with long standing acute demands.
Crucially, there needs to be greater alignment of strategic and budgetary planning by key public sector partners for the medium and longer term. Public services have changed significantly over the last decade. And the pace at which partnerships can adapt and deliver for the people we serve has never been more evident than over these unprecedented past 16 months.
We must build on what has been achieved, learn from what has and hasn’t worked and continue our progress on the road to Christie’s vision of “improved public services that are better focused on the needs of the people they seek to support."
Greg Colgan is the Chief Executive of Dundee City Council.