Thursday, 4 November 2010

“We’ll give you one of those clicky things…"

…..and you can vote on what you like or don’t like”

So spoke a Council leader when asked about choices, Big Society and the delivery of services by anyone other than the local authority. This, we’re told, is ‘participation’ – you’ll be consulted once we’ve decided what we’re going to consult you about. You’ll be herded into making forced choices with a ‘clicky thing’ but what is important is that everything is ‘coherent’ and ‘co-ordinated’. Which of course is your council’s role.

On another day at a different council, a leading local councillor – having said that Big Society makes her sick, then tells the assembled supplicants that the council will decide on the basis of ‘consultation with the sector’. No innovation, no creativity – above all no untidiness.

I could cite other examples – dozens of them – as local councils thrash about following the Spending Review. And in every case there is an absolute desire to keep control. To dictate, to order things, to plan, to strategise. While there are examples of councils making radical decisions about services they are the exception.

Yesterday, I was looking at the impact of “the personalisation agenda” on the delivery of local authority – and voluntary sector – services to the elderly and disabled. And it struck me that this agenda – introduced by the last Government – should represent a substantial and significant shift in the way we deliver these services.

Or rather that we (by which I mean local councils) should stop “delivering services to vulnerable adults” and instead start acting as the carer of last resort. The point of personalisation – and I guess the point of the Big Society – isn’t to give people a clicky thing but to give people the power to decide who they get services from rather than have someone else do that for them.

And we don’t need tidiness to make this work. We just need to allow the people who actually make and deliver the services for ‘vulnerable adults’ to sell their services to those – hopefully more empowered and less vulnerable as a result – adults. By all means quality assure. Certainly take on the role of carer where people don’t have others to do this. But stop second-guessing what people want.

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