Published on March 15th, 2018 | by John OMeara



We have been waiting to see the detail of the ‘new way of doing business’ between the Council and local residents first announced by John Cotton in 2013. With the arrival of ‘Neighbourhood Networks’ in Older People’s Services some of that becomes clear, and there is an urgency about local organisations deciding how they are going to work with this, and whether they want to bid to become one of the lead organisations who will be responsible for co-ordinating/developing activities for older people in one of 7 areas across the city. The aim is to delay the need for mainstream services, and/or for them to be needed less by individuals, at a time when the older population is growing. Two areas, Perry Barr and Selly Oak, will initially be worked with ‘in house’ by the Place Directorate of the Council, and pilot initiatives will launch almost immediately in sub-areas of the existing Lozells and East Handsworth ward together with Handsworth Wood ward, Stechford, and Sutton. More details will be available next week, but in the meantime here are some of the key points about the scheme:

  1. It is funded from Central Government’s Better Services Fund, aimed at increasing integration between health and social care, and reducing long term costs by making better use of the capacities within a ‘place’ (click on ‘SteppingUpToThePlace’ for background). It is focused on older people, so its target group will be people over 65. Close attention has been paid to a similar scheme which has been running for several years in Leeds, operating at Council ward level (click LeedsScheme – but this is a very old report).
  2. It draws on evidence from, amongst other things, the ‘community social work’ of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, which emphasised the strengths of individuals and communities (their ‘assets’) rather than their problems, and in some instances led to a transformation in coping capacity which reduced the need for formal services. There will be 10 social workers in each area, and at least 1 ‘community partnership’ worker to oversee optimum use of local networks.
  3. It will work to existing Parliamentary constituency boundaries (so Perry Barr will be our local one), ignoring for now the changes to both constituency and ward boundaries which are soon to come into effect. Funding is for an initial 2 years, with the possibility of a third year.
  4. Within the overall funding an amount has been allocated to each area (£240,000 per year for Perry Barr) to enable small grants of up to £10,000 to be made to create/sustain/develop activities which promote the health and wellbeing of older people. The Local Innovation Fund has been absorbed into this, and the amount will also have to fund 1 or 2 Community Development workers per area.
  5. Organisations can bid to be the lead in a constituency, and to have responsibility for commissioning and co-ordinating activity in such a way that the supportive potential of ‘place’ is realised. This will put an onus on style of approach, relational ability, and a very strong grasp of how community development works. It is aimed to have commissioning arrangements in place in all constituencies by September.
  6. Perry Barr is seen as being rich in both cultural terms and in the number of its engaged organisations and institutions, but currently lacking in approaches and structures which can take an overview of the whole area. It is for this reason that the Place Directorate will take the lead, and much of the work will fall to Neil de Costa, who has up to now supported our ward committees and led on work arising from these. One goal will be the formation of a constituency-wide steering group which will bring together health and social care services, local groups, and local resident representatives to oversee developments.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Commissioning Manager for Adult Social Care and Health, Austin Rodriguez, recently made a presentation to interested organisations at Summerfield Centre, from which our pictures are taken (you can see his overheads by clicking on ‘NNSBriefing’).   If you are interested in bidding to be one of the lead organisations for areas other than Perry Barr and Selly Oak, you need to register on (click link) and updates on the process will also be available on this site. If you want to find out more about local developments like the pilot covering the existing Handsworth Wood and Lozells and East Handsworth wards, contact Neil De-Costa at                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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  1. This is a symptom of the desperate straits in which local government finds itself in an age of austerity. It’s not that there are not already networks of neighbours, friends and relatives caring for their own, but that local government, suffering massive staff cuts, now desires to ‘reach out’ to these individuals and groups, with offers of grants and professional regulation, in return for formalising what you currently do informally. Beware you do not become an arm of failing government. Under schemes like ‘Neighbourhood Networks’ you and others, already volunteers, relatives, unpaid carers, ‘street champions’, neighbours, may find yourselves not only doing what you were already doing, the community services you willingingly rendered, but also being required to provide regulated extra unpaid services the council will no longer carry out. You may find that, as well as getting on with your voluntary work as a citizen and neighbour, you are filling in reams of paperwork (actual and on-line), ticking boxes, with your unpaid ‘performance’ monitored by salaried strangers who have little knowledge of you or your neighbourhood.

    • Alison Hortin says:

      My understanding is that Simon Baddeley’s comments are entirely apposite. I have observed these very processes to be already at work where Voluntary Sector agencies are encouraged to engage in partnerships with public service providers in order that provision of even basic services can be accessed by our communities. An example of this may be seen in some of the current working practices within our beloved NHS, in the field of Mental Healthcare provision.
      Whilst many of us would naturally commend any such collaborative approaches which have the potential to improve the lives of fellow residents, Simon Baddeley rightly calls upon us to consider carefully the wider implications and the context in which we share the precious gift of our time as volunteers.. This is not an argument for non action but rather one which exhorts us to contribute to society where we are able, in an informed and measured way.

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