This is an article by Simon James, Interlink – all opinions are my own and not of Talwrn.
Talwrn is a great concept – a bit of time out of the hectic day to day of every bodies day job for some sharing, reflection and discussion – and thanks to Sarah Lloyd Jones and People and Work (and Garfield Weston) for making it happen.
The latest session on the implications of the Social Service and Wellbeing Act was led by Jenny O’Hara-Jakeway, who runs Powys Carers. Jenny had received some input before the meeting from Rick Wilson, of the Community Lives Consortium, and Ruth Marks, WCVA. It is great to have access to three movers and shakers!
I think we all share similar feelings in that the vision behind the Act is brilliant – it does seek to make a leap into new territory – one that moves us away from top down prescriptive public services to people centred support – working together with people not asking them to jump through hoops – a process that can devalue people and give all the power to people who hold the purse strings!
However, public bodies, especially local authorities, are under such huge pressures, they are often too busy implementing things they must do – such as assessments – to think outside the box and be responsive to people.
We do know from the work within Talwrn and elsewhere, that many third sector organisations in Wales are reliant on public service contracts, and can fall into the trap of becoming an arm of the state, and in order to survive, have had to focus on delivering contracts rather than to their charitable objectives. This can lead to the people and communities who are in need of support being given a raw deal and with no-one to fight their corner.
The Act can allow the third sector, including organisations of all sizes and shapes – including small community groups, user led organisations, social enterprises and large charities – to really work with and respond to what is needed – and to start by listening and understanding, to help people live a good life and to address what really matters to communities across Wales.
For this to really happen, local authorities will have to change. They will need to be more open and less prescriptive. Collaboration, cooperation, care and coproduction will need to be valued over competition – the cheapest service is not likely to be the best – the focus has to be on working with people to improve wellbeing. It is not value for money to let people get to a stage where they are severely ill or in need, but more importantly it harms them and damages society.
We can change things for the better by listening to and building the capacity of people and communities to care for each other. That involves listening to people and working together at a local level. It means having conversations about what people can do for themselves, what they need a little help with, and only then, discussing what they might want others to provide. It requires facilitation and support. It requires building on what already works. That is the Commissioning Process – it is not procurement.
People in communities care about each other – a lot – we need to help connect people to each other, build on their strengths, to help build up circles of support around people and places. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get together in communities – rather than isolate people; lets get the buzz back into communities – that happens when different people of all ages, abilities, beliefs, sizes and shapes get together in one place – everyone has a gift and each person and place is unique – diversity is something we can celebrate together.
The third sector is well placed to be a key driver for change, to listen to and work with people and communities. If the Act is to realise a vision where people have more choice, control and independence; and where people and communities are free to act to determine their own futures – we need a third sector that is valued, supported and resourced – and one that listens to and responds to citizens.
I look forward to a world where coproduction, cooperation and collaboration are the norm, and competition is used to buy pens and computers – not care and support.