Capital visions for future trajectories

Jonathan Brooks-Jones wonders whether the Welsh capital’s new mission statement will lead to ‘Austerity Cardiff’ or ‘Cut-back City’

Cardiff City Council partners 118 groups, involving 560 people occupying 912 membership ‘places’ – some obviously doubling up. According to the city’s new Proud Capital Vision, launched at a conference the other day, all this smacks of an impenetrable, labyrinthine bureaucratic thicket, which it is determined to tame. The objective is simplicity, transparency and, of course, the name of the game these days, cost cutting.

The city fathers are waking up to the notion that complexity does not always amount to effective service provision. With left and right hands occupied in different places some issues are left untackled, while other activities are duplicated more than one department being involved with the same partnerships but at different stages.

Another perennial problem is that too much emphasis is placed on the structures, plans and processes of partnerships. The city’s new, perhaps heroic approach is to shift the emphasis to the practical outcomes for citizens. Henceforth, the city’s headline citizen-centred goals include giving us a clean, attractive and sustainable environment, making us feel safe, and ensuring that Cardiff is a great place to live, work and play.

Motherhood and apple pie come to mind, as does other soporific questions prompted by such vapid aspirations … where’s the beef? Anyone interested in contributing to the discussion should e-mail [email protected]

Council leader Rodney Berman is chairing the city’s Proud Capital Vision Forum. It has some 20 members garnered from public, private and voluntary organisations. Their role is to provide strategic leadership and to monitor the delivery of the Vision. The forum oversees an Executive Local Service Board which deals with the practical needs of collaborative and partnership activity. Taking part are the chief executives and equivalents from all the major public service partners in Cardiff. The chair is Andy Marles, Chief Fire and Rescue Officer for south Wales.

Three other statutory partnerships will develop new strategies by April 2011 for the Community; Health, Social Care and Wellbeing; Children and Young People; together with a strategic assessment of Community Safety. They are self-styled as:

The statutory partnerships have agreed a development process that will produce an Integrated Partnership Strategy and Delivery Plan. Part of the Proud Capital strategy is the incorporation of work done by Trajectory – The Futures Partnership, experts in analysing and forecasting social and consumer trends. They have come up with three possible scenarios for Cardiff’s future. The most likely is what they call ‘Austerity Cardiff’. A worst-case scenario is ‘Cut-back city’, and the best possible future ‘Post-Austerity Cardiff’.

In each scenario is a set of individuals who epitomize the needs of people living in each possible future. For example, in Austerity Cardiff, ‘Kyle’ is a 19-year-old unemployed single male. He is unemployed after leaving school and college with few qualifications and most of his friends are in a similar situation. He fears the rise in crime and social tensions in his local area (Butetown). He will not go looking for the help he needs to improve his life and future prospects. This illustrates the focus on citizen-outcomes, and shows how individual needs can guide public service strategies.

The scenarios are designed to help determine which future the city is heading towards, and in the process steer a course away from the worst-case scenario. The success will largely depend on the severity of funding cuts, but it will also depend on the success and efficiency of the partnership strategy.

Some of the benefits of the new approach are:

  • Avoiding a ‘partnership silo’ approach by focusing on citizen outcomes rather than partnership structures, plans, and processes.
  • Undertaking only one needs-assessment for all partnership strategies reducing the costs of research and duplication of information.
  • Delivery of a complimentary consultation and engagement programme to avoid duplication of effort and ‘consultation fatigue’.
  • Development of an integrated performance framework based on the seven strategic outcomes at a city-wide level and incorporating project performance to avoid partnership silos.

Another aim of this reform is to democratise the provision of pubic services. It will endeavor to involve citizens, by asking them to contribute their thoughts to the discussion. It will also aim to empower them to feel that they can make a difference to the policies that affect their lives.

The strategy is still in the development process, and Rodney Berman and his colleagues are open to suggestions from the public, and from those working in public services. Over the next four months they will be holding engagement events, and the strategic partnerships will be working up detailed action plans. Will they be robust enough to withstand the spending axe poised to crash down on the Welsh public sector? Whatever you think about Cardiff’s mission statement, our council leaders are at least beginning to weave and dodge a bit to try and avoid the coming blows.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales

Also within Politics and Policy