Jacky Bourke-White: How we created better local commissioning

03 May 2017 Voices

Times are tough in our local voluntary and public sector. Anxiety experienced by staff at all levels is palpable, arising from job insecurity and fear that we will no longer be able to deliver decent services to the vulnerable people we work with. In Southwark this is particularly true for those of us working with our older population.

Whilst the borough is now ranked 41st on the Index of Multiple Deprivation our older population ranks 6th nationally for the proportion of older people living in an income deprived household. Over 50 per cent are dependent upon means tested benefits, over 40 per cent live alone and only a third feel that they have adequate social contact, a situation exacerbated by ever increasing property prices that have forced sons and daughters out of Southwark and in many cases out of London altogether. The lack of funds and family support has created impossible-to-meet levels of demand for dwindling social care and health resources and local voluntary organisations.

These pressures are bringing about a small revolution in how the public and voluntary sector work together. Southwark Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group have recognised that it is vital that we concentrate our resources on the front line, pooling our knowledge of need and joint expertise on what works to deliver effective preventative interventions for older people, responding positively to a request by the local voluntary and community sector to a new way of commissioning older people’s services and acknowledging that in the current financial environment traditional competitive commissioning methods will not bring about the best outcomes for older people.

The Consortia of Older Peoples Services in Southwark (COPSINS), formed of five local charities in 2011, will work with the council to design and deliver a preventative agenda for older people in the borough. For the first time, together we will decide priorities and approaches, pilot and review service delivery, breaking down the commissioner/provider relationship. If successful, this approach will be rolled out to other service areas.

This is an exciting moment for those of us who have advocated for new ways of working. It has been made possible by many factors. Southwark has an historically strong voluntary sector with levels of public funding that have enabled several local charities to operate at a significant size, enhancing their ability to bring in additional resources and, combined with central London geography, to attract a high calibre of staff and management leading to strong voluntary and community sector leadership.

Leadership and commitment to joint working have been mirrored at all levels within the local statutory sector, within both Adult Social Care and Housing departments which have traditionally commissioned voluntary and community sector services and with whom there has been an effective dialogue and working relationships built up over many years and more recently from within Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group.

It builds on the new Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy, a local Early Action Commission and work following Age Friendly Borough accreditation, all initiated by the local voluntary and community sector. The VCS Strategy, Common Purpose, Common Cause, has replaced a moribund Compact with a local document that contains a commitment to joint local delivery of a shared early action and preventative agenda.

We are at the beginning of a new process in Southwark. We have no previously successful model to follow. This is experimental. To work it will require honesty, straightforwardness and a willingness to learn and change and for both partners to acknowledge and put aside our organisational interests and to keep coming back around the table to talk. Because in the end this is not about sectoral interest or ways of working. It is the most vulnerable in our society who are most dependent upon the safety net provided by the welfare state. It is imperative on us all to find ways to work together to mitigate the effect of its rolling back.

Jacky Bourke-White is chief executive of Age UK Lewisham and Southwark

This blog was originally written for the think tank Civil Exchange, as part of a programme of work around its report, A Shared Society? The independence of the voluntary sector in 2017

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