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September 6, 2017

Head to Wigan

Yesterday, the First Minister announced a number of measures in her speech to relaunch Scottish Government’s programme for government. In her speech, she pointed to the need to recalibrate the relationship between local government and our sector in pursuit of better outcomes and better public services. Nothing new there you might think. We’ve heard it all before. What will catalyse this change? Perhaps the Local Democracy Bill when it emerges, but until then local council leaders could do worse than beat a path to Wigan.


Jamie Hailestone, New Start

Donna Hall is chief executive of Wigan Council. She talks to New Start, Jamie Hailestone about the council’s transformative approach to delivering public services, The Deal and the local authority’s upcoming conference.

What is the key philosophy behind The Deal?

When austerity hit we realised that closing a few libraries, changing bin collections and reducing school crossing patrols was not going to close a £160m budget gap. We needed something big and radical to fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state. We created a dynamic, two-way psychological contract with all of our residents so we could weather the storm together. We called this ‘The Deal’. The Deal is a strengths-based model of service co-design with residents and community groups. We explain simply, clearly and repeatedly that we need to work differently with residents to drive out increasing demand for public services. This is how we have made it work: Stop doing things to people. It doesn’t work and costs a fortune. Start doings with people.

How has it changed the relationship between the council and the local community?

The Deal has fundamentally transformed our relationship with residents. Previously we were a big, well-run but paternalistic organisation with quite staid, traditional relationships with our residents. Our resident satisfaction with the council was low. People didn’t think we provided value for money and they didn’t trust us. That has all changed for the better through The Deal. We introduced the approach initially in adult social care, but quickly realised the benefits and its application to all areas of public service. Just one example of success is how we have tackled loneliness and social isolation thorough The Deal. Connecting lonely people into networks on their doorstep that are usually free or very cheap is better for them and better for our budgets. We have seen packages of social care reduce from over £1,000 per week to £17 per week with happier, more connected service users.

Can you give me an example of how the council has transferred an asset to a community group under The Deal?

One of our fantastic community interest companies, Abram Ward Community Cooperative, took ownership of a community building – Platt Bridge Community Zone – via a community asset transfer in 2014. The council also supported the cooperative with community investment funding. The community cooperative now has the right accommodation to empower social enterprises in their local community through business advice and funding support as well as provision of business unit accommodation and hotdesking. The cooperative also develops projects for ‘community connecting’ from developing neighborhood plans to projects to support healthy living, social isolation and mental health with more than 60 community businesses helped so far. This is a great example of how investing in the third sector can create sustainable community-led success and empowerment.

What outcomes has The Deal delivered for the council?

Since the launch of The Deal demand for council services has reduced. Between March 2015 and March 2016 there has been a 13% reduction in the number of looked after children; welfare desk presentations have reduced and the number of people receiving formal adult services has fallen from 8,818 in 13/14 to 7,782 in 16/17. The return on community investment is significant, with every £1 spent equating to £1.57. Local swimming pools, libraries and community centres are now being run by the community for the community. There’s also been a significant increase in resident satisfaction with 65% (2016) of those asked satisfied with the way the council runs things compared with 41% in 2008, whilst perceptions that the council provides value for money increased from 30% to 50%.

Can you see more local authorities taking a similar approach?

We are proud and humbled that high quality organisations from across the country are looking to Wigan to help shape their approach to working successfully with their communities and managing service demand reduction. We have Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police both rolling out their own Deal-inspired programmes and we have many other organisations, including from abroad, who have contacted us and visited us to learn more about The Deal.

Tell us about the upcoming conference and why you are holding it?

Because there has been a significant amount of interest in our approach, we are holding a national conference on the Deal on 27 September here in Wigan. Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester mayor, our resident anthropologist Dr Robin Pharoe will be speaking as well our local community groups. The chief executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan and deputy chief executive of Manchester City Council, Sara Todd, who have developed similar approaches to redefining the relationship between citizen and state. It will be a brilliant opportunity for us all to share best practice and learn from each other.

In the future, do you think local authorities will have more of an enabling role?

Councils which fail to tap into the power in communities will really struggle. Neighbourhoods are the essential building blocks for public services. GP surgeries and schools are where real transformation takes place. I would urge other leaders to be bold enough to close the things that don’t work. Keep the things open that build and connect people into their local community and make it stronger, such as libraries. We haven’t closed any, but have massively reduced their operating costs by thinking differently. Listening is crucial. Not just as a one-off but as a rolling programme of regular listening events both with staff and residents. They can be challenging but always rewarding. They avoid us getting into a bubble of self-delusion. Invest in all things digital to connect staff and residents with the future as well as saving loads of money. Engage your partners, community, public and private sector in this new approach. It simply won’t work if it’s just the council and not the NHS etc. Finally build a leadership team of officers and members with bags of energy and enthusiasm that are public service reformers and really believe in this different way of working.