Community Scoop

The community sector – key allies for Localism

marionblakeeditedMarion Blake

Chief Executive | Platform Trust

Revitalising democracy was the message from Dave Cull, President of Local Government NZ (LGNZ) as he opened their annual conference last weekend. He then went on to launch the ‘Localism’ policy project. This joint project between LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative is calling for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand. Instead of relying on central government to decide what is good for our communities, Localism calls for councils and communities themselves to make such decisions. The principles and values describe, amongst other things, a world where New Zealand citizens will have a meaningful say about the range and nature of local services in their communities. Localism ensures that a “place-based” and integrated approach will be taken to the provision of services and local governance.

Never is this more needed than in social and community health provision. The unwieldly structures of centralised purchasing, contracting, commissioning, procurement and audit suck the life blood out of community organisations. In the community mental health and addictions sector organisations hold contracts with multiple government agencies: district health boards, the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry of Health, Housing New Zealand, the Ministry of Education, ACC and sometimes local government. This gives these community organisations a clear view of the often disjointed state of commissioning that leaves many New Zealanders and their families falling between the cracks. Despite it being well recognised that many health issues are driven and influenced by a wide variety of social factors such as housing, poverty, loneliness and unemployment, these funding agencies continue down their own compartmentalized alleys.  Even though people often need immediate support, the current referral-based system creates waiting lists and contractual requirements often hamstring services and hinder any potential to assist people when they first say they need help.

So when Collaborate for social change in the UK produced Get Well Soon – reimagining place based health, it created a tingling of hope that health in communities could look different. It talked about issues that, even in a totally different country, played out in our world. The evidence paradox –where the short-term funding cycles conflict with the longer period over which any evidence of the impact of prevention is borne out. It spoke to the world that is driven by quantitative measures through hard data, and the less measurable quality of life care and wellbeing outcomes. Collaborate has gone on to produce material that can assist us as we venture into placed-based initiatives and explore the realms of Localism, and it opens up the inclusion of health and wellbeing into the conversation.

It is logical that local place-based input into commissioning is vital to reflect the local population need. There is also greater understanding locally of existing assets or resources within the community, therefore making it more likely that commissioning will take an asset-based approach.

Pools of flexible funding (‘flexi funds’) could be made available locally for addressing urgent need. Trials of flexi funds to date have given service providers the ability to immediately support people with practical support solutions, such as paying for the person to get their driver’s licence so that they can get to and from employment. In the mental health and addiction sector uses for flexi funds for immediately actionable (and low cost) supports that can have profound effects on a person’s ability to recover such as paying a person’s bond; paying off a bad debt; providing babysitting so that the person can attend appointments.

The community sector is resilient, resourceful and generally holds strong values about working in a person or whanau-centred way and they are key allies for Localism. We are keen to join the conversation that LGNZ has begun about ‘the importance of distributing power, authority and the right of people to be active participants in making decisions about their communities’.


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

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