Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Collaboration: the way forward for Scotland’s councils

Gillian Hunt

Scotland’s local authorities do not have the capacity or capability to deliver the essential services our citizens need.   That is a fact.  No-one seems to disagree: we need to pull together and create partnerships to deliver services but is this happening across Scotland?

COSLA stated in their 2022-2027 Plan that “Right now, we face a combination of social and financial challenges never seen in modern times”.  So that people can “live well locally” COSLA’s plan focuses on six key priority areas and to deliver these priorities they rely on COSLA Convention, Leaders and Boards, and significantly on partnerships.  Partnerships which include Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland and the third, independent and private sectors.

The Improvement Service’s ‘Delivering a future for Scottish local authorities’ highlights how local government can, “transition to a model of service delivery that builds on current success but more deliberately supports effective partnership to deliver outcomes needed in communities.”

Looking back at the four pillars of the 2011 Christie Commission report: empowerment of individuals and communities, a requirement to work much more closely in partnership, the prevention of negative outcomes and the need to become more efficient were strong messages.  And these principles of people, partnership, prevention and performance still hold true for the current and future delivery of services.  The question is how far have we come in the 23 years since the report’s publication?  Not nearly far enough is the answer.

In these challenging times, collaboration with others is essential.  In a previous paper, ‘An Ecosystem: what we need for effective collaboration in Scotland’, collaboration between the public third and private sectors was examined.  Key ingredients for effective collaboration outlined were: knowing what it is you need to change or improve: finding others to help; strong and trusting relationships; and partners coming together as equals.  Time and again successful collaboration proves that you get more: the whole is greater than its parts.

One local authority demonstrating the key principles of the Christie Report and doing so through effective collaboration is the City of Dundee.  The report ‘Collaboration in Dundee’ (see below) highlights a small number of the array of collaborations Dundee’s Children and Families Department has with public, third and private sector partners, which are having an impact on outcomes. The following collaborations were spotlighted in the report:

  1. Art at the Start – supports parents and carers, whist making art together, to practically learn about, notice and reflect upon how their young (two year old) children communicate and how beneficial it is when adults around children tune into and respond positively to these communications. Relationships between parents/carers and practitioners are built and strengthened through Art at the Star
  2. Domestic Abuse Capacity Building – builds confidence and competence of the workforce in understanding and responding to domestic abuse, whilst developing new services to provide additional support.
  3. Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for Children and Young People – to date 600 children and young people got the help they needed, when they needed it, and from the people with the right skills, knowledge and experience to provide it.
  4. Together to Thrive – a collaboration between Mental Health Foundation (MHF), NHS Tayside Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Dundee City Council (via the Alliance) alongside 9 third-sector delivery organisations (Community-based Organisations, or CBOs) and school referral partners to use a task-sharing model which aims to deliver transformational change in how support is delivered to families.
  5. Addressing Neglect and Enhancing Wellbeing – ANEW is an active implementation approach which allows key staff in schools, nurseries and health visiting teams to listen to, engage with and support children, young people and families more effectively.

Dundee is refreshingly open and honest about the challenges they face and in order to address these are outward-looking, actively seeking partners who can help.  And when those collaborations are in place the council is not precious about who leads, it’s about who is best to do so.

The benefits of the collaborative approach in Dundee are clear: opportunities to share resources and expertise; quick and efficient signposting and easy access to support; avoidance of duplication and creative collaborations.  Possibly most importantly is the way they are able to promote and develop whole family approaches, and do this with, not to families.

The report concludes with lessons learned from the collaborations spotlighted and provides five recommendations for others looking to work in this way:

  1. Be open and honest about what you need to do.
  2. Listen to and work with children, young people, their families, and staff, to shape your services.
  3. Seek collaborators and partners who can help.
  4. Develop relationships and trust with partners, learn from each other and act as equals.

The final recommendation is: raise awareness-prototype-evaluate-propose-act.  It’s so important to first examine the problem and tell people about it.  Devising a pilot or prototype then allows you to test out solutions, which can then be evaluated to prove impact.  Once evaluated you are in a position to propose workable solutions and take the necessary action.  Simple isn’t it?

If the City of Dundee Council can operate in this way, then others can too.  We must learn from effective practice if we are to be able to deliver the services our citizens want and need.

Gillian Hunt is an educational consultant and former teacher.

Gillian’s full report, collaboration in Dundee, can be read here.