Support the community commissioning agenda and transform the way local authorities interact with communities
For almost a decade, local authorities have struggled to manage increasing demand for public services whilst tackling the issues that communities face.
As shown in the NLGN’s Community Paradigm, public services interact with communities in an increasingly transactional manner, offering quick-fixes to acute problems rather than tackling issues more broadly getting to their root cause. This has resulted in a reduction of trust in public institutions; reduced effectiveness in treating problems; and an increase in demand for services.
To solve these issues, local authorities should devolve budgets to communities and give them decision-making power over services within their areas. This type of Community Commissioning will transform the way in which communities interact with public services, increasing trust in institutions; increasing effectiveness; and reducing demand.
In one example of community commissioning, residents in Kingsbrook and Caldwell Big Local in Bedfordshire – a resident-led community group which was given £1.1m in 2010 as part of the Big Local Programme and one of the most deprived communities in England (1) – have employed a Community Health Champion, revolutionising the way in which residents in the community interact with the health service. The Community Health Champion – based in the local GP surgery – offers support with the non-medical issues affecting a patient’s health such as a poor support network, poor housing or an inactive lifestyle. It was found that, across 10 case studies, the health and social care savings and benefits from this approach amounted to £39,667 (2). What had been a transactional relationship, whereby residents sought quick fixes from prescription drugs, was transformed into a collaborative effort to improve the community’s health in a holistic way. This benefitted both residents and public services, highlighting the rewards of collaborative decision-making at the local level.
Power should be devolved directly to communities because of the nuanced and complex nature of their needs. One example of this nuance is that healthy life expectancy – the amount of time an individual can expect to live without a long-term illness – between the most and least deprived areas is 19 years (3). Many local authorities will include both deprived and affluent areas and centralised decision-making tends to be ineffective at addressing such disparities. The community commissioning agenda is not trying to undermine local authorities but to embolden them. Local authorities need to innovate to continue to provide public services that work for everyone in their communities.
Community commissioning allows residents to devise the flexible responses needed to transform their areas. As Kingsbrook and Caldwell highlights, residents are most aware of the issues that effect them and are capable of devising effective solutions. Once residents are given both the decision-making power and cash to deliver public services, the relationship built between the community and the local authority can be truly transformational.
There is also a vital role for central government to play in empowering communities. The government should legislate for the next wave of dormant or unclaimed assets (from stocks, shares, bonds, pension and insurance funds) to be dedicated to a Community Wealth Fund. The proposal is that this fund would be an independent permanent endowment which would devolve funds directly to the residents of neighbourhoods, enabling them to build the civic infrastructure and social capital and the confidence and capacity to enable them to work alongside local authorities to transform their areas. The Community Wealth Fund represents a once in a generation opportunity to invest in the future of our communities. We invite the members of NLGN to join the Alliance of nearly 150 civil society and private sector organisations calling for government to commit dormant assets to it.
For further information on The Community Wealth Fund, please see here.