Published on May 6th, 2019 | by John OMeara



The Handsworth Ward Forum Meeting on 30th April heard that the Wellbeing Centre in Handsworth Park will definitely be transfering out of Council control – the only question is what type of organisation will take it over, and therefore what impacts there will be on the types of activities provided and the cost of these to members of the public.

The discussion which took place, led by Ann Goodall (Handsworth Leisure Centre Project Manager) and Gaynor Roberts (Business Transformation Lead) highlighted how difficult it now is for local residents to understand the nature, status, motivations, length of tenure, funding and accountability arrangements of the people who may be talking to them about ‘Council’ services, making it hard to achieve trust.

It now looks as if the report on the transfer will go to Cabinet in July, meaning that details can be provided at the Ward Forum on 30th July. Whether the Cabinet’s decision about method of transfer will be final at that stage, or whether there will be room for residents’ views (remember ‘Working Together in Birmingham’s Neighbourhoods’ and ‘co-production’?) is not clear at this point.

One detail which has been unresolved for months is the repair of the Steam Room. The department which would previously have dealt with getting value for money quotes for this work is another which has been ‘spun off’ into an independent organisation (Acivico). The Council is only allowed to get quotes through this organisation, and after several months delay they have now managed to produce one quote which is double that charged previously for similar work.

So the bits of the Council which are still the Council now have to investigate why a bit which is no longer the Council can’t come up with a cheaper quote from other non-Council organisations…and in the meantime Handsworth remains without steam.

Also a ‘spun off’ organisation is The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS – previously part of the Council’s Wellbeing Service). In consultations last year they led people to believe that the Play Centre would develop as a local hub and that local initiatives would be able to use the space free of charge – making use of the large funding they were about to receive from Sport England.

It now appears that volunteers who are keeping childrens’ holiday activities going there are being charged, and that the charges continue to rise. Jane Goodall agreed to arrange a meeting with the Centre Manager Mark Brown to discuss this. But who is able to commit to what in this organisational free-for-all?

The TAWS consultation in Handsworth was characterised by mistrust, confusion, and a feeling that people who were working their socks off voluntarily to combat poverty in a range of ways locally ‘were darned’ if they would were going to allow a private sector agency engaged by the now independent organisation ‘TAWS’ to ‘encourage’ them to do more than they were already doing – for nothing.

Now the only people who can see what our local TAWS worker is doing are those who have signed up to be part of what they call ‘The Crowd’ (a member only e-mail list). Who gave them the right to decide who should and shouldn’t know about what’s happening in our locality?

The contrast with local relationships with the police is striking. People can see what the impacts of austerity have been on the police, and will often give vent to frustration at what they can no longer do. But on the ground, particularly with the PCSO’s, who have been given license to engage with issues affecting residents’ quality of life, there are real relationships of trust; people know where they stand, and they can see what difference the commitment of their own time will/won’t make.

The Council needs to re-learn the factors that underpin effective local partnerships (talking to PCSO’s Sam Shaw and Jade Snookes would be a good start) – and stop believing that every problem can be ‘commissioned’  or ‘outsourced’ out of existence.

The PCSO’s listen and do, to the best of their ability. Too many others, including at times larger charities, listen and think ‘how can I use this for the benefit of my organisation?’ It would be better to have less stuff but have it solid and relateable to, than more that’s ill-informed, obscure and pre-occupied with its own survival. Dare we mention ‘public service values’?

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