It is my view that, if you were setting up public services from scratch, you wouldn’t set up anything that divided health and social care into two completely different models of practice with separate governance arrangements. I am also fairly sure you wouldn’t have services to the public operating in (intra?!)organisational silos, each with their own infrastructure that tend to require the ‘customer’ to tell the same story repeatedly but then don’t collaborate on a solution.

In Sutton, we are trying to unpick that landscape—and it is really hard. It is hard because people who work in this space are well-meaning and passionate and so taking time out to relearn public service provision doesn’t always feel right and is very difficult to practically do.

I have a three year old son. He is fixated on Peppa Pig and so my world has become one of two dimensional talking animals. However I think public service reformists would do well to take some lessons from Peppa and her chums. If something needs doing in Peppa-land, Mr. Bull is there to ‘dig up the road’. It doesn’t really matter what the problem is, he just does it with gusto.

In Local Government our response is often to “set up a project” with similar well intentioned enthusiasm. However the off-the-shelf methods usually deployed are rarely emotionally intelligent enough to deliver the best results. Working across multiple organisational cultures, stakeholder requirements, personal belief systems and political aspirations, you need something more sophisticated, you need genuine collaboration.

Our attempt to do this is the Sutton Plan.

We know there are lots of organisations/people doing things but the real value is that the starting point was a shared data-hack to really analyse local issues. For example, we have known for some time that there is a problem in Sutton with domestic abuse, but only by bringing together partners from across sectors do we now understand with sufficient granularity. This has taken conversations, honesty, trust and tension—Mr. Bull simply stomping around trying to ‘dig up roads’ would have been very damaging, he has had to learn subtlety.

Returning to Peppa Pig, Miss Rabbit is an extraordinary woman. She runs a supermarket, nurses the sick, offers a police service, staffs the museum and sells ice creams amongst many other things. However she is a one-off. Leaders of place cannot be Miss Rabbit.

They must accept that groups of people achieve change and it isn’t a time for ‘Heroic Leadership’. The Sutton Plan approach has created the space for the expert practitioners to redesign our local perinatal offer leading to better outcomes for residents. A team of people that know the system have taken it apart and put it back together better. They did this by accepting that they all have a valid contribution to make and focussing entirely on the needs of new mums and their babies. And this includes some peer-to-peer support across organisations too!

George Pig, Peppa’s little brother, loves dinosaurs. If you ask George a question, his answer is likely to be ‘dinosaur’. That is his frame of reference. In order to find out whether George likes spaceships or jigsaws, you would need to help him experience them first in order to obtain a genuine response.

The Sutton Plan approach has to include local people but has to do so in such a way that they come to the table as equals. In order to strengthen that input, we have worked with our Volunteer Centre to organise Citizen Commissioners, residents who are trained and supported to work on commissioning dilemmas with us. They provide a level of local independence and scrutiny that means we are reaching more people from a wider range of communities than ever before.

This project is not a Council one. It is for everyone with an interest in Sutton. It is about collaborative accountability and requires humility, honesty and commitment to work. We are already seeing the benefits of that—our local Fire Officers are now including safeguarding and public health information in their home fire safety visits—but there is a lot more to do and it will require all partners to flex and to challenge themselves whilst keeping an eye on the prize, making Sutton a great place to live, work and play.

Tom spoke about the themes in this piece at our recent conference NPC Ignites. If you’d like to know more about the Sutton Plan, please contact Simon Breeze.

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