June’s spending review announcement by the Chancellor provided little relief to an embattled local government that is already coping admirably with 28%+ cuts.

Without significant change a number of council colleagues fear that the wheels may come off by early 2014[1].  The “new” £3.8bn of social care funding may alleviate this however as ever the devil will be in the detail and it is not coming into play until 2015 anyway.

Pressure is most acute on those wellbeing services that keep the “barely coping” from becoming the “not coping”, such as respite care, day centres and meals on wheels. A shift to “not coping” will increase demand for NHS services and we are perhaps already starting to see given recent statistics on A&E pressures.

Professor Andrew Kerslake highlighted the massive challenges for health and wellbeing support at iNetwork’s summer conference (see http://i-network.org.uk/inetworks-2nd-spring-conference-10-may-2013-transforming-health-and-social-care), but implementing his articulate ten point plan requires enormous leadership and commitment at all levels when the NHS is already coping with upheaval but not social care’s financial pressure. It feels that this is going happen fast enough.

The impacts of welfare reform are similarly pressuring many of the same people with the combination of “bedroom tax” and council tax bills being sent to many for the first time through new local council tax schemes. This is leading to a rise in arrears, reportedly by as much as 45% since 2011 – a figure that seems broadly in keeping with anecdotal reports from iNetwork members.

With reducing capacity, local public services are struggling to innovate with many managers being given additional responsibilities and roles. iNetwork is helping share strategies, however whilst there are commonalities in approaches including troubled families, channel shift, mobile working and asset consolidation, there are wide differences in priorities and delivery readiness. For example several councils still do not have a channel shift strategies nor citizen intelligence functions. If they do have the latter they may not yet be sharing this information with their VCO partners to enhance their capabilities.

Local Public Service Strategies

A priority for our members continues to be shortening the time to innovation and we are focusing on the “persistent challenges” highlighted within the 2013-14 programme to do this.

In particular, our members are looking to iNetwork for ideas and guidance on alternative and outcome based funding models, multi-agency person-centric services like troubled families and people living with dementia, community resilience and social capital, channel shift and transaction cost reduction, and local digital economic stimulation.  Updates on these are provided below.

Alongside our events and training, we are increasingly being asked to provide more bespoke advice and guidance to specific organisations in areas like channel shift, CRM, troubled families, open data and information sharing.

This aligns with demand from our members for iNetwork to act in a wider lobbying role and promote that it does so by increasing its profile and communications.

In summary, iNetwork has had a busy first quarter. Meeting an increasing demand with limited resources is challenging – very much reflecting the state of the sector as a whole. Our activities have, by and large, been at capacity and increased membership from within Yorkshire and & Humberside and the West Midlands gives us grounds on which to build.

In terms of iNetwork’s value to its members it is clear that we are being successful in shortening the time to innovation delivery and this resonates well at this time of capacity constraints. This is alongside the benefits of up-skilling and knowledge enhancement plus the savings that can accrue via our Lean TIME training and the Warning Advice & Reporting Point.

Going forwards iNetwork is being asked to step up its lobbying role and improve its engagement with senior officers to highlight the positive feedback we get from participating organisations. Work is underway on developing a Transformation Leaders Network which will assist with this.

[1] LGA estimate: 56 councils at risk of insolvency in 2013-14.