“A great wind is blowing,” Catherine the Great once said, “And that gives you either imagination or a headache.”
It’s certainly true that local government is at the centre of the storm as the IEWM annual conference in Birmingham heard.
Chief amongst those winds of change is the Social Care Act and the potential for integration with health services which have been described as the largest change to social care in a generation.
But calls were made for a collaboration of the willing and for people to come forward to help the region step up the pace and work out the right way to make changes to health and social care.
The topic was tackled in a three-way panel discussion between Alistair Neill chief executive of Herefordshire County Council, Cllr John Cotton, lead member for social care at Birmingham City Council and Andrew Webster who is responsible for health and social care integration at the LGA.
These are harsh winds blown in by austerity.
Money will remain tight. There will be a bit more for the NHS and there needs to be a debate about whether or not social care can be protected, the session heard. But if that happens that means deeper cuts to the unprotected areas. Local government is one of these. There is also likely to be fewer GPs and more specialists.
The trend is towards a single pot of money and more joint decisions between local government and the NHS. Which in all likelihood means, Alistair Neill speculated, thinking of more joint decisions. That also means more decisions and power for health and wellbeing boards the forum where both parties are joined at the table by the third sector. There are more than 100 of these bodies set up by the current coalition government and likely to last whatever the colour of the next government.
As organisations many are still finding their feet and have not yet become a proven part of the landscape. But part of the landscape they are likely to remain.
Alistair said: “We could take a bleak view of the future but that would be pretty uninspiring, so we are taking the positive approach – seeing how we can make unavoidable change work. It is less important who owns what and more important what they do.”
The Herefordshire chief also called for people to step forward to help come up with the solutions. Collaboration is needed. A new way of working is needed.
“What we need is a coalition of the willing,” he said.
One of the first steps is a network of people in the West Midlands who are prepared to help change and who have the ideas to help make it happen. What will that network look like? That’s to be worked out. But the first step is to encourage debate, discussion and new ideas.