Harnessing the assets of the third sector

Written by: Ian Welsh & Calum Irving, Chief Executive, The ALLIANCE & Voluntary Action Scotland

Published: 12/05/2014

Ian Welsh, the ALLIANCE, and Calum Irving, Voluntary Action Scotland, jointly write on third sector partnerships and integration.

Working in partnership must be a key part of our future approach to the design and delivery of public services.  The ongoing Scottish Government reform agenda – encapsulating health and social care integration, community empowerment and new ideas about procurement – offers us, as the third sector, an opportunity to work together with our counterparts in the public and private sectors to more effectively design and deliver solutions that meet the needs of people, including disabled people and people who live with long term conditions.

The need to grasp this particular nettle is growing.  If we are to quicken the pace of change in our public services then the third sector as a whole must be treated as both a key delivery partner and a strong strategic contributor of views and intelligence.  It’s long been articulated – and frequently by Scottish Ministers – that the sector has an active role to play in shaping and following through national policy.

On the ground, Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs), a network of local organisations established in 2011, provide a strong, coherent and cohesive voice for the sector in each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas – seeking to influence the architecture of community planning structures in the best interests of the community.  They encourage new ways of working, support transitions and new opportunities for involvement of the sector in delivering better outcomes.

Health and social care integration presents us with a significant opportunity to maximise the impact from the assets on which this contribution is based.   As a sector we are a strong force for change – providing over a third of health and social care and demonstrating our expertise and innovative touch throughout Scotland.  Our approach provides the bedrock on which the Scottish Government should found their increasingly preventative focus.

TSIs have, in recent years, been called upon to provide support outwith the structure of their funding agreements as the pace of public service reform has quickened.  Voluntary Action Scotland describe this as a “brokerage” role, necessary to support change, but their wider contribution does need to be sufficiently nurtured.

Evidence from the Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) programme, a ten year programme aimed at improving older people’s experience of care and support, has shown that a degree of support for the sector can foster a growth in co-ordinated and innovative third sector responses to the challenges ahead.  But while RCOP is a significant and important agenda, it is just a drop in the ocean with regards to the wider thrust of health and social care integration.

The ALLIANCE and Voluntary Action Scotland have recently offered the Scottish Government a route to enhancing the ability of the sector to influence the outcomes of integration.  Our proposal seeks to harness the assets of the sector, by strengthening each TSI and attaching strategic support that ensures adequate third sector engagement in the integration agenda.

We believe that harnessing the assets to deliver locally will ensure the voice of people is connected to the national agenda. This will enable the sector to provide the level of co-ordination required to ensure that the emergent local Health and Social Care Partnerships are in a place to have local integrated care plans signed off by this September.  A tall order, but one each local partnership must manoeuvre over the coming months.

The risk of not taking this opportunity to enhance the role of the third sector is to prevent the conditions for meaningful change, developing and delivering change that puts people, not processes or structures, at the centre of Scotland’s public services.

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