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June 15, 2011

The answer is local

What does the future hold for our public services?  Despite constant warnings about the scale of cuts that are coming, there has been very little evidence that those in charge are preparing for the ‘quantum leaps’ or ‘paradigm shifts’ we have been told will be necessary. The much anticipated Christie Commission due out this month may shed some light.  Hopefully, Christie will point in the direction being suggested by Foster Evans of EVH

Housing associations could lead public service reform , Foster Evans , EVH

The Christie Commission’s review on the future of public service delivery is expected to be published this month.
The commission is likely to address a range of fundamental challenges, and call for changes. Service redesign might emphasise the need for more working in partnership, including involving local communities, politicians and the voluntary sector. It will stress the need for innovative responsive services designed around what people need. And it will call for early intervention to cut costs later.
In our own submission to the commission, EVH have highlighted the potential for local community-based housing associations (CBHAs) to meet these expectations.
Many housing associations have been successful in moving beyond being a landlord, doing more than providing good quality affordable housing. There are countless examples of housing associations delivering a range of important local services. We see health and wellbeing as one of the most pressing issues for many of the communities they serve.
It is a natural evolution, given that high levels of social rented housing are often found in areas of poor health, poverty and benefit-dependency.
A greater integration of effort and collaboration between the NHS, local authorities and the local social housing provider could have a positive effect on health and wellbeing at individual and community level. Top-level commitment to developing this relationship could bring real benefits.
Many CBHAs possess a unique community credibility and that high trust relationship could be exploited effectively for the promotion of community health and wellbeing.
Their expertise in housing development, professionalism, local credibility and, critically, knowledge of their communities suggests they could provide an ideal platform from which to improve local services as well as the physical environment.
There are many good examples, including housing integrated with health promotion, care and other services. These can be isolated; relying on individual initiatives and specific local factors. Re-examining the structural relationship between the social housing, care and health professions should build from these experiences. That way such work can be scaled up to take advantage of the sector’s potential to provide community anchor organisations, around which services can be based.
Opportunities presented from the commission’s recommendations could support CHBAs to enhance the services they provide to the communities they serve. This will arise from both a desire to do more and a realisation that current services models will be stretched to breaking point as tensions building between resource constraints and public expectations become more severe.
Good health encourages independence and supports opportunity. Communities are built on this. Building better communities attracts people, improves services, enhances assets, attracts investment and supports sustainability.
It is interesting to note that EVH’s initial research for this was supported by private sector partners (Cruden Estates and Land Engineering) with an interest in this developing policy landscape and how this will influence the way in which they conduct their future business.
There are challenges and opportunities in the reforms to public sector service delivery in Scotland. The housing association sector represents an under-exploited resource for the development and delivery of public services. CBHAs can do more to support this and are ready to translate Christie’s policy recommendations into practice.
Foster Evans is director of EVH, who have over 140 housing associations as member employers.