26 March 2015

Looking back on Community Planning Partnerships - Policy reunion

Erica Wimbush shares a blog post from the Policy Reunion focused on the emergence and evolution of Community Planning Partnerships, held on 24 March and organised and chaired by Professor Ken Gibb as part of the What Works Scotland initiative.
The idea of a Policy Reunion is to bring together some of the key actors involved in the development of a policy to reflect on what happened and what lessons can be learned in front of a small invited audience. This event focused on the emergence and evolution of Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs), a cornerstone of Public Service Reform in Scotland, from the perspectives of three key players in the initial establishment of community planning - Peter Peacock, the Deputy Finance and Public Services Minister at the time, Rory Mair, Chief Executive of COSLA, and Douglas Sinclair, Chair of the Accounts Commission. 

Their reflections and conversations were refreshingly honest and helped to shed light on how the political priorities of the early days of devolution and the legacy of 18 years of Tory government shaped the initial conceptions of community planning and in some ways contrast with the political pre-occupations of post-Referendum Scotland. It was also interesting to hear the Panel acknowledge the complete failure to address and resource the implementation of community planning, a major factor explaining the continuing failure of many CPPs to thrive and fulfil expectations. 
The 2003 Community Planning legislation was forged from two clear political concerns in Scotland in the late 1990s and early days of devolution: 
  1. local government was keen to address the centralising structural reforms and loss of local powers and to strengthen local democratic leadership 
  2. the Labour Party wanted to address the problems of fragmentation across public services that had developed through the push to privatise many public services via compulsory competitive tendering and generally diminish the powers of the state sector.  
Community planning offered a way forward on both these issues by introducing powers of integrated working and coordination between the major public services and led by local government. It was introduced as part of a package of measures, sitting alongside ‘Best Value’ as a consideration in the design of public services to meet local needs and the ‘power/duty of wellbeing’. According to Peter Peacock,  and despite what was written in the Guidance, community planning was seen as a high level joint strategic planning mechanism for the big public institutions and not necessarily (at this point) a mechanism for community or third sector engagement. This acknowledgement resonates with the experience of third sector organisations as rather marginal partners around the community planning table and is in tension with today’s agenda of ‘community empowerment’ whereby local communities are being encouraged to own and manage local assets.  
The Panel acknowledged that the political pre-occupations of the time meant that community planning was unclear and poorly specified at the beginning – for example, what was meant by ‘communities’? Indeed, the ‘sludginess’ of the policy was described by Rory Mair as ‘porridge that we threw a cloak of planning around’. Many important matters were ignored in the wake of their single-minded attention to the primary goal of stopping the centralisation and loss of powers to local government’. Most significantly, there was a failure to think through, resource and support the implementation of community planning at local level, beyond issuing statutory Guidance and funding some CPP pilots. On reflection, this was seen as a major factor underlying the lack of progress that headlines the two Audit Scotland reports on community planning.
There was little dissent from the view that community planning had ‘done pretty poorly’ to date. But what is the alternative? If we didn’t have CPPs, would we need to re-invent them? Given the continuing pace of devolution and the close working relationship established between central and local government in Scotland, Peter Peacock is convinced that there is no other credible, acceptable alternative to community planning to achieve the integration and coordination of public services. Yet such a loose, voluntary partnership arrangements are unlikely to achieve high performance in the immediate future. The fact that the new integrated health and social care partnerships have a statutory basis is a recognition of this and they are seen as potentially ‘crowding out’ the CPPs. The less palatable alternative proposed by Rory Mair is a single public sector service, excluding hospitals but incorporating the functions of public health and tackling inequalities.
From Douglas Sinclair’s (personal) perspective, the main requirement for making greater progress with community planning is to recognise the significant culture change involved for public organisations, their public managers and leaders. The main barriers he identified to date have been: 
  1. the way local councils’ have interpreted their leadership role as ‘being in charge’ rather than facilitating the partnership; 
  2. the over-ambitious expectation that CPPs would act as true Boards without establishing the necessary framework for collaborative performance and organisational incentives for pooling resources; and 
  3. the lack of clarity about how the new central-local relationship will works in terms of governance and finding a balance between national-local priorities (national priorities still tend to be seen as imposed). 
Rory Mair elaborated on these further when he noted the need for organisational as well as personal commitment to partnership working and the need to shift the planning and performance culture to focus on improving outcomes rather than increasing the inputs/resources for public services with calls for more teachers, nurses, social workers, etc.
Investment in managing the necessary culture change and in capacity building and training for councillors and public service professionals is now recognised as an essential. It is a lesson that is being heeded in setting up the new health and social care integration authorities, but for CPPs this implementation support only started to be addressed in the last 5-6 years. 

The slow pace of progress in coordinating improvement support for CPPs across the many different national level teams and agencies is indicative of a further obstacle – we don’t have an equivalent community planning mechanism for coordinating the implementation and improvement support for public services. Much less attention has been given to effective coordination at national level yet it is also a necessary condition for high performing CPPs. Interestingly, the What Works Scotland initiative is taking on this role in certain respects by getting its national partners around the table to share practice and reflect on working with CPPs to support improvement. This may be the germ of a more sustainable national level improvement partnership but it will require a shared vision and collaborative leadership to realise the potential.

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