Asset-based place: just do it!

Featured article - 19 June 2018
By Donna Hall, Chief Executive, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

Head-shot of the author, Donna Hall, Chief Executive, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

The work of SCIE on asset based approaches has never been so badly needed by public services. Seven years of austerity have seen many areas cutting their preventative services such as Sure start centres, place based-teams, voluntary and community organisations and outreach work. This strategy, although seemingly necessary at the time, coupled with benefit sanctions, is contributing to increased demand in the system for children’s and adult social care, police and NHS services.

Some places, like Northamptonshire, can’t cope with the increasing demand. Many more are teetering on the precipice. But there is another way...

The Institute of Fiscal Studies said in 2011 that Wigan was the third worst affected place by austerity. Status quo was not an option and neither were piecemeal annual cuts, slicing 10% a year off every department.

Together as a whole system we chose to challenge everything we did as public servants and radically rethink our respective roles in the community. We needed to shift power to the people. Seven years later we are in a much stronger position.

We are passionate about people and place; we used an anthropologist to help us design our services and staff training so that everyone ‘gets it’, from the local GP to the receptionist, refuge workers, postal workers, social workers, housing officers etc....

Investing £10m in an innovative community investment fund - and asking groups for their ideas to support people - has unleashed the most amazing array of fabulous work in grassroots organisations and we can see the effect it is having on our public services.

It’s so simple. We have just applied the following simple principles:

  • There isn’t time for pilots - Just do it!
  • Engage all staff constantly and help them see the assets in every person, every family and every community
  • Invest significantly in preventive community solutions that take demand out of the system.
  • Give staff permission to innovate
  • Close down the expensive things that don’t work
  • Invest in innovation and role it out quickly at scale
  • Invest in place-based teams with police, GPs, schools, housing, social care – so they are not all working separately with residents, expensively being bombarded with different agencies
  • Make asset based working how we do everything not just someone’s project.

It really does work. The results speak for themselves:

  • A balanced adult social care budget and a balanced council budget using no reserves to balance the budget and freezing council tax for the last five years
  • All care homes rated good or outstanding
  • 59% increase in resident satisfaction
  • 10% decrease in looked after children
  • Fastest improving healthy life expectancy in the North West
  • Best council to work for in the UK as rated by our staff
  • One of the best performing hospitals in the UK.

So, just do it!

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