And so the cuts cometh. Like councils across the country, Edinburgh Council’s conversation with staff and citizens has hit some rough road with the suggestion that around 2000 posts will have to go. Whether that is the actual number isn’t really the issue. There will be job losses on a scale that has not been seen for many years, if ever.
Councils have little option but to explore radical solutions given the circumstances they face. It is not possible to reduce the budget by the kinds of sums being suggested by trimming budgets here and there. There is precious little fat left to cut.
Having said that, what has to be resisted is wholesale outsourcing to the cheapest bidder, as has been tried in other places. In Northamptonshire, the workforce was reduced from 4000 to 150. It is seen as trailblazing. My own view is that such options will make the relationships, which are core to citizen focused services, become so disparate as to mean quality, co-ordination and eventually access will be significantly reduced.
The solutions do not lie in changing the provider of the same services. The solutions lie in radically rethinking the services in the first place, blurring professional boundaries and taking a more holistic approach to meeting need, especially of the vulnerable.
I visited a complex need project in Sunderland recently, run under what is called a MEAM model; “Making Every Adult Matter”. It has had significant success in changing the lives of some of the most excluded and vulnerable, not by outsourcing, or through new services, but by partnership with the third sector to do what is called “co-ordination from the ground up”. A case manager works with all the services involved in the clients’ lives, making sure they talk to one another, understanding the interventions required, and the opportunities for collaboration in those interventions.
They gave an example of a man who had multiple challenges and has been homeless for some time. That homelessness has seen him present at A and E 46 times in a year. By simply managing his case in a way that meant those already working with him were using their resources more effectively and collaboratively, his A and E presentations were reduced to 2, he was maintaining tenancy, and beginning to come close to re-engaging with his children.
Being citizen focused, building partnerships to make much better use of the resources we have, and being willing to reach the outcomes that citizens want in very different ways, is perhaps a more difficult discussion in the first instance but will, I believe, be much less painful than wholesale outsourcing with the consequential loss of jobs and much more.