James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy, Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh
This briefing looks at community planning partnerships (CPPs) in the context of the evolution of Scottish local government.
It shows CPPs as part of the attempts to deal with historic issues of public service coordination and community empowerment.
The briefing argues that the logic behind CPPs remains powerful, but the process of moving from rhetoric to reality has been painfully slow.
It uses the concept of ‘silos’ popularised by writer Gillian Tett to think about the workings of CPPs and potential solutions to inherent problems, including addressing incentivisation, and information sharing and empathy.
This briefing will be of interest to all, particularly those involved in community planning, and community engagement.
Briefing in full
Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) remind us of Voltaire’s description of the Holy Roman Empire – neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. There has been little evidence of community in CPPs or of collaborative planning. CPPs have been relatively weak forms of collaboration with most planning focused on each component of CPPs. The logic behind CPPs remains powerful but the process of moving from rhetoric to reality has been painfully slow.
Community Planning Partnerships are but the latest iteration in the long debate of public service delivery and community involvement in decisions, and this part of the briefing explains the historical context that led to their creation.
In their rudimentary form in much earlier times, public services addressed problems separately and through ad hoc local organisations. Local boards and commissions existed to tackle poor law, public health, and education. Little, if any, account was taken of the links between these services.
Over time, there were moves to ad omnia local authorities with broader responsibilities covering larger geographic areas. A critical step came with the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929. In a speech in Glasgow in favour of the development, Prime Minister Baldwin referred to the ‘brotherhood of services’ being proposed under the control of the new system of Scottish local government.
There were equally eloquent voices against. Tom Johnston, later to become Secretary of State for Scotland during the war, criticized the large multi-purpose authorities: “The human child, the most delicate mechanism in the world, is to be united with sewage farms, public loans, trains, waterworks, and so on all jumbled together in this monstrosity which the right hon. Gentleman calls unification”.
The response from the Minister Walter Elliot who drew up the legislation was that: “time has gone past when it is possible to treat the mind of the child apart from the body of the child’ and this required that the same authority locally should have responsibilities that included education and health.
The ‘Brotherhood of Services’
But there has been little consistency in pursuit of the ‘brotherhood of services’ though wartime experience was invoked rhetorically in post-1945. Two important developments after 1945 set the UK, including Scotland, on a path on which it remains. The form taken by the National Health Service disrupted any effort to bring about coherence in public services. One of Nye Bevan’s biographers John Campbell noted that ‘all the fundamental criticisms of the NHS can be traced back to the decision not to base services on local authorities’. The National Assistance Act, 1948 finally and formally ended the poor law but created administrative structures quite separate from health.
These pillars of the welfare state were major advances in the provision of much needed services but created an institutional division between health and welfare. Alongside these developments, Scottish local government reform at the same time moved further in the direction of larger local authorities. Centralisation and pillarisation left little room for meaningful community engagement, especially in an era of ‘professional expertise’ and paternalism.
Reforms in the 1970s
Reforms of Scottish local government in the 1970s following the Royal Commission on Local Government (the Wheatley Commission) on the reorganisation of Scottish local government created two distinct tiers of local government but failed to address the pillars created three decades before. By this stage, health was entrenched as a separate service in its own silo. Concerns were expressed about having services split between regions and districts but it was felt that much larger authorities were needed for services such as planning, education and social work, while smaller authorities were required for other more local community services. It was anticipated that large regions would be necessary to handle large scale strategic planning and allow for economies of scale. There had been concern that pre-existing smaller authorities had been unable to deliver services, including education, in a satisfactory manner.
The appropriate size of authority for one service was not necessarily the same for another. There was concern that these large authorities would seem distant bureaucratic entities. Compromise was required. But the compromise reached favoured splitting services between two distinct authorities while not really addressing the issue of how the citizen might engage with decision-making. It is easy in retrospect to criticize these large bodies but they performed important functions beyond the capability of smaller authorities.
It was acknowledged that the two-tier structure separated cognate services. Housing came under Scotland’s 56 district councils (though the Wheatley Royal Commission preceding reforms had recommended that housing came under regional councils) and social work under the nine regional councils. The exceptions were the three ‘all-purpose’ island local authorities.
The Wheatley Commission that had laid the basis for the two tier structure, accepted that there would be interdependencies and called for ‘ingenuity, willingness to experiment and above all, patience and goodwill on the part of the regional and district authorities themselves’. As Professor Michael Keating has suggested institutionalised intergovernmental relations turning “conflict into fruitful negotiation” was rejected in favour of the “typically British expedient of conjuring up an imaginary consensus”.
A Committee was set up to enquire and make recommendations on relations between housing and social work. It recognized the need for cooperation and coordination but largely left it to the local authorities to work this out. The office of ‘Chief Executive’ was introduced to the new structure of local government on the recommendation of a working group on organisation and management. This working group also recommended the creation of a ‘senior management team’ to coordinate the work of the local authority. But these efforts largely focused on the need for coordination within, rather than between, authorities.
There was less evidence in addressing the growing distance between local government and the citizen under the trend towards larger authorities. Provision was made for the establishment of Community Councils but these lacked power and authority. The role of communities was an after-thought and though with exceptions failed to have much impact.
Reform in the 1990s
In 1991, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that local government would be reformed and the two-tier system would be replaced with unitary authorities. This created an opportunity to create more coherence and link services previously split between district and regional councils. The three island authorities remained and the system of district and regional councils was replaced with 29 unitary authorities across Scotland. From one perspective, it appeared that this was the apogee of the ad omniaauthority. But it was in fact limited as it brought together only those matters that had been under the diminishing range of local government responsibilities.
Local autonomy, including financial autonomy, had been whittled away over many decades. Water and sewerage were transferred out of local government to three water authorities appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Children’s Panel system was also removed from local government jurisdiction. Responsibility for roads, other than local roads, was transferred to the Scottish Office. Tourism was transferred out to area tourist boards, again controlled by the Scottish Secretary. Local economic responsibilities were transferred to ad hoc bodies when the Scottish Development Agency was merged with the Scottish Training Agency.
Local authorities were encouraged to enter agreements with neighbours – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes forced. In the first year of the new authorities in 1996/97, there were 334 different joint arrangements. These were not new and, of course, did not tackle relations with Health Boards and other services outside the shrinking base of local government. So, while a new structure of unitary authorities was established, this occurred alongside local government losing powers and central government recreating networks of local ad hoc bodies. And the role of communities in decision making was lost in the process.
The New Century: creation of Community Planning Partnerships
The need for greater coherence remained unsatisfied by the time devolution was established. The establishment of Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) was the latest, though rather feeble, response to this demand.
The incoming New Labour Government focused on the need for ‘joined up government’, often seemingly unaware that this diagnosis of the problem was neither new nor easily addressed. In Scotland, this took the form of CPPs.
The objective of the CPPs was to bring the various separated services in a local authority area including local government, health, policing, fire and rescue, transport
With the aim of engaging with communities and improve delivery of services.
CPPs represented yet another case of the ‘British expedient of conjuring up an imaginary consensus’ all over again. Over the years of their existence, this has been the main criticism of CPPs. On paper, CPPs offer joined up government but the practice of government and governance remains silo-based. Efforts have been made to overcome this. Single Outcome Agreements (SOAs) were introduced in an effort to create more coherence within CPPs and with Scottish Government objectives. By explicitly articulating a set of agreed outcomes, it was hoped that the various parties involved would work together in pursuit of these. Each SOA for each of Scotland’s 32 CPPs has been refined. Progress may have been made but SOAs have not brought the kind of step change hoped for, though the development acknowledged a problem.
‘The Silo Effect’ and CPPs
There are obvious reasons why CPPs remain limited forms of collaborative governance. There are lessons to be learned from the private sector. Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett brought her skills as a social anthropologist to her analysis of the 2007/08 financial meltdown and identified a pertinent problem. Her recently published book, The Silo Effect considers the causes and implications of silo-working in a number of institutions including the New York Fire Department. She offers five key lessons that resonate with weaknesses in CPPs.
1. Keep boundaries flexible and fluid. The boundaries between different partners and with the community remain remarkably solid. There is a tendency to view the world through a ‘them and us’ lens, whether the ‘them’ is the public or some other institution. Tett recommended rotating staff between different departments.
2. Pay and incentives need to be addressed. Tett quotes Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
3. Information flows matter. Sharing information may technically be easier but the old adages that information is power and that power tends to be hoarded applies.
4. Allow people to reimagine the taxonomies they use. Most of us, Tett notes, simply accept the systems we have inherited at work.
5. Use technology to challenge silos. While computers do not remove silos they create opportunities that need to be grasped.
Translating these insights to understanding the weakness of CPPs and identifying what needs to be done requires recognition that CPPs at least involve an effort to create collaborative synergies. And central to this collaboration are wider public service objectives and the importance of community empowerment.
Bringing people to a common table is clearly insufficient for effective collaboration. Institutional silos create major impediments and collaborative policy making cannot simply be encapsulated in bringing senior staff together. Policy is delivered in our communities and it is there that the best and worst of collaboration, community empowerment and silo approaches is to be found.
There are many examples of excellent collaboration (see for example that in Wester Hailes) but all too often these rely on individuals with a strong sense of common purpose rather than some embedded institutionalised form of collaboration. In essence, the best often arises despite rather than because of the institutional architecture.
But notably, the formal mode of CPPs is often the least important factor in achieving successful outcomes. Collaboration around high-level objectives is fine but meaningless unless there is collaboration throughout the system. It is the relationships fostered amongst ‘street level bureaucrats’ – teachers, police officers, social workers and crucially the public – that matters most.
Measuring CPPs by analysis of what happens at the level of the chiefs and the SOAs might suggest all is well but is too distant from the citizenry to be particularly meaningful. What might be described as banal, everyday policy making at the street level counts more than the high level statements of intent. This is where more effort is needed to make collaboration work effectively.
Formal collaboration is relatively easy. What is difficult to achieve is a genuine common sense of purpose and sharing of resources. Minimal collaboration might involve a common set of outcomes while allowing each component of the CPP to return to base and determine how best to pursue such outcomes. Even then, there is a long distance between stated and actual outcomes. Too much attention has been given to SOAs and too little to actual outcomes.
CPPs operate as islands of formal collaboration in a sea of impermeable silos. The default position remains the silo. This is evident in the way public services are monitored and audited. The Christie Commission on the delivery of public services quoted the National Community Planning Group as saying that the “…most significant systemic issue is that different local partners face different performance and accountability frameworks. Central requirements, targets and commitments make integrated effort around delivery of local outcomes more difficult”.
For the most part, staff are appointed, trained and work in silos. The socialisation that takes place in the daily experience of almost everyone working in public services runs contrary to demands for collaboration. Collaboration becomes, at best, an add-on.
The need for incentives, information sharing, and empathy
There are few incentives for more collaborative approaches. It is rational to ignore or at least invest limited time and effort in demands for collaboration if rewards are given for other objectives. While ample lip service is paid to collaboration, career prospects are far more often determined by achieving targets in silos and pursuing narrow institutional interests. Where are the individual incentives for public servants to engage in collaboration? It is remarkable how rarely the key elements of the ‘Scottish model’ of collaboration, prevention and community engagement are incentivised as compared with other considerations.
There may be an expectation that information should be shared but there are public servants who complain bitterly that they are unable to access information held in other parts of the system. There needs to be an equivalent of Freedom of Information internal to the system of government with an assumption that information is shared unless good reason for not doing so is offered. We have probably travelled much further over the last two decades in freedom of information between the citizen and public authorities than we have between public authorities.
But there is a more fundamental issue that is the need to foster a greater sense of common purpose. If there is a single over-riding message from the experience of CPPs it is that there is a lack of what might be called institutional empathy. Advocates of a more coherent approach to delivering public services do not propose that specialisms should be abandoned. Professional specialisms, specially tailored training and working will always be necessary. The core work of a police officer cannot be done by a fire and rescue officer or a social worker. But developing a better understanding of what others do and why they do it is important. This will require greater interdisciplinary work, auditing and rewarding of those who pursue the Christie principles of empowerment, prevention, collaboration and efficiency, and serious consideration given to a cull of the array of targets and monitoring that currently displace these principles.
For more information about this, or any other LGiU member briefing, please contact us.