Archive | December, 2010

Plan B – The missing conversation

24 Dec

Over the past ten years, people working on the margins and with communities have been creating the connectivity between local people, public services and innovators – yet, these are the very people who are now losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs because their work is inbetween organisations and is not part of mainstream. Unsurprisingly this is affecting women more than men and making more innovative community solutions less likely to be recognised by public commissioners, many of whom are now also thin on the ground. Those that are left in the civil services and local services as commissioners are not necessarily the more open of staff but those at the core most at home in the mainstream and least experienced at connecting with social innovators or communities.

There is a missing conversation about which people are more affected by dramatic cuts, and what skills are needed to deal with chaos and constant change – there is now doubt that public servants do need to change. Even the third sector needs to raise its game, become more engage and less focused on management transactions.  Yet, the issue of of staff capacity and capacity building has almost disappeared since the election in May 2010.

The fact that public servants have been promoted for their performance and project management skills did not help Labout transform the public services and neither will it help the Coalition build a Bigger Society.  Whatever reform agenda – its not the economy that matters so much as the people and their capacity to collaborate. Valuing people is part of the Coalition rhetoric but it is only those enterprising folk in communities who are seen as an asset, the public workforce has been degraded as a dispendable commodity that can be counted out.  

Cameron is allowing his chancellor to frame the big economic debate to rebalance the economy, indiscriminately cutting the public sector across the country in a very short time frame and undermining the very public connections and capacities that are needed to connect Big Society solutions with the wider public sector and local strategic leaders. Influenced as much by Blair’ statement that ” you should get as much reform done in the first year as you can” –  he and the cabinet are ignoring the impact of this on the capacity of the country to function and for innovation to take root as well as on  individuals.

Over the past five years, many of public staff have been working across agencies, with each other and with communities – it the civil service that has been slowest to change and to learn skills and to value of networks that form the web of  the connections between innovators in communities and those in public bodies that is necessary for any more personalised service to spread.

Now that the dust is settling on the Big Society  – it is time for a much more open conversation about how  the Big Society is going to get connected and how public servants are develop the capacities necessary for community solutions, shared services and strategi locality commissioing to work, without which local solutions will remain patchy schemes  and the Big Society a concept that is appropriate for small towns and villages in the South but weak and unrealistic in terms of addressing inequalities in the north.The

The missing conversation is about a government strategy on how to forge connections and develop public capabilities .


‘Pinchjos’ a small business – where’s the support ?

16 Dec

The Coalition Government appears totally unaware of the impact of their drastic financial cuts on small businesses as well as on public services.  There is no evidence that the loss of 100,000 public service jobs are being created  –  and even less evident that new businesses are emerging in the places where the jobs are being lost – in cities, particularly in the North.  According to Danny Blanchflower there is actually a collapse of confidence in the private sector – if existing  businesses are freezing recruitment – where is the support and incentive for new  businesses ?

It is not easy setting up a new business, I know about this as my son set up a wine bar two years ago at the beginning of the recession.  Pinchjos a Tapas Bar in South Manchester looks like it is going well – customers return, Matthew the chef is great, people like the food,  the place has atmostphere and  staff  are friendly. Although, small, there is occasional live music, (next Sunday19 December) and they also do Parties. You can book online

Underneath all this hard work is  a constant cash-flow crisis;  fixed costs of rent, rates, insurance, tax, licences, utilities etc are high and food pricing and VAT are going up.  Where is the support for SMEs ?

I have spent several days trying to find out how to access the Regional Growth Fund and how new SMEs can claim a reduction in HMRC payments for employees  – you cannot access the former directly as an SME and accountants and Business Support Agencies appear unable to provide any information on the latter. Banks are closed as far as new businesses are concerned and the advice you receive  from Business Link- you could read on their website.  While many in the local authority have been understanding, a woman in HMRC said if  ” If you can’t pay your tax on time you shouldn’t be in business“.   The same could be said of their own practice. Is it any wonder that people in SMEs become anti-government and public officials ?

What businesses like Pinchjos want, is not just information on what you are supposed to do (regulation and law)  but  how you do it. People’s capabilities grow when they are given help with how to do things rather than merely information on what they ought to know. There is very little of such support.  The world of know-how is provided by those closest to the problems and who have a problem solving approach – rather than merely thinking support is information and form filling.  Government and  local public services are strong on the latter than very weak on problem solving. 

Local, connected SMEs are critical to recovery – and yet there is a huge gap between the government’s interest in economy and the impact of their public expenditure custs and the growth of this sector. All enterprise is based on the capacity and confidence of entrepreneurs who take a risk and start a business. In the current environment they cannot take all the risk because that means they have no capital, little investment and little know-how support. Manchester social entrepreneurs contributed a great deal to the revival of Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s -many sole traders are social entrepreneurs. But even they are losing confidence in places where they customers are anxious about the future and many already struggling to survive.

Local leaders have a role to play in creating the conditions for innovaton in all sector.


Personal recovery from mental distress, unemployment or divorce

1 Dec

We launched the report Recovery Begins with Hope’ yesterday in NESTA – inspite of the snow 60 people turned up. Helen Hutchins a nurse and someone who has psychotic episodes told her story. She started ‘Tea and Talk’ because it is only when people talk that each appreciates the other more. Recovery is a mutual process than an energise staff as much as patients. Geoff Shephered outlined how a Task Force is now helping other Mental Health Bodies incorporate ‘recovery principles’ into their core services.

Bob Grove, chief executive of the centre for mental health said it was difficult to integrate recovery principles fully in prisons, because prisoners are not free to choice a new direction – however, recovery is being used as way of introducing hope in prisons as later NEWSNIGHT revealed that day.

My interest in the recovery approach is that it can lift people’s lives becasue in encourages both staff and service user to imagine and determine self-respect and better relationships and well as provide the essential but more mundane things like housing, training and jobs.

This approach is transferable to many personal services- the trouble is the term recovery works in terms of the economy but personal recovery as yet to take off as an innovation, akin to co-production.