Quote of the week
“What was clear when you visited some of the places [was] that there were areas where the main players had never been together in a room.”
— Lord Bichard
Last week, I was in the U.K. to look into the impact of the Big Society on the British civil service. This research will be part of a special supplement that CGE is partnering on with KPMG.
One element of the Big Society is “localism,” the moving of service delivery and other functions down to communities from the national government level. Michael Bichard, now retired from the civil service, had led an initiative called Total Place under the Blair government that set the stage for what has followed under David Cameron.
As Bichard tells it, his goal was to look at long-term ways of improving the government system.
When he visited local communities, he learned that there were areas where the main players had never been together to discuss shared issues. As an example, in one county where they launched Total Place, the head of the district councils, the head of the county council, the head of the college, and the head of the health trusts, had never met before to identify how they could work together. Like large government institutions, they were working in silos.
The Coalition government gave the initiative a new name and a focus: families with complex problems. It has funded 16 pilots and is looking for the first time whether it’s possible to devolve all public spending – or as much as possible – to a local area so it can decide how it is spent.
Bichard argues that the choice of families with complex problems was a good one as it is a good example of how dysfunctional the system has become. If you were one of these families, you might typically interact with up to 10 different agencies of fragmented, niche providers, getting visits, for example, from the police, probation officers, education system, and health care professionals, all working in isolation.
Based on his own and the Coalition government’s experience, Bichard believes the only way to break down fragmented, government silos is from the bottom up.