For the last few years, I have carried with me the experiences of a young man I met in rural North Yorkshire. He needed support from a range of services, to develop his skills, to help with housing and budgeting, and also to manage his health needs. The public sector responded to each of those needs. However this young man found he had eight key workers, each travelling to his rural town, each dealing with a particular issue in isolation.
All of us who work within the public sector, and who aspire to see it deliver better, can recount a similar story. Each example demonstrates an opportunity missed: for information to be shared, in order to deliver a more coordinated, more efficient service.
This is why I was so delighted to be invited to visit Bath and North East Somerset – in fact my home town – to see the progress that partners are making and the support that the Centre is providing. The invitation came from the council, but I met with practitioners and managers from across a range of organisations, including social care, mental health, Jobcentre Plus and the local Troubled Families programme, Connecting Families.
I was struck by the opportunities which are available to Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES), as a result of it being a small unitary: the chance to build excellent partnerships, to innovate and to be agile when developing new ideas. This also makes it an exciting place for the Centre to work, as the team can capture stories on information sharing barriers being resolved at the cutting edge.
One story which epitomised the kinds of changes emerging in places like B&NES came from the Connecting Families team. The team built a strong working relationship with a family, and had gained their consent for information to be shared as required – which meant that when domestic violence was witnessed in the house, the keyworker was able to bring in the right help almost immediately. And the help didn’t simply extend to police intervention; referrals could be made to get advocacy for the individual, the children were moved to a new school and the family could be rehoused. And because Bath and North East Somerset have developed a close working relationship between the Connecting Families team and their welfare support team, the new house was supplied with some of the basics – such as a fridge – to enable life to return to normal as quickly as possible.
This was just one of the examples I was able to see of the way that improved information sharing can drive service change. And the Centre has been able to demonstrate that many of the same issues affecting information sharing emerge – whether barriers or solutions – no matter what the policy area.
We discussed the need for information sharing to be acknowledged strategically, both nationally and locally; the drive for greater ambition; and the need for communication with partners, and with the public at large. All of these issues are important, and the Centre will continue to work with Bath and North East Somerset to provide support as their programmes move forward. We also heard how sharing the experiences of B&NES has been inspirational elsewhere – and that learning from others has helped to bring solutions into B&NES.
This is important feedback for the Centre and helps to move the Centre’s work on as it becomes more established. I left Bath with some new positive stories – about the impact of the Centre, and the way that information sharing can make a difference to people’s lives – which I can carry with me for the future.
Mark Fisher chairs the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing steering group. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkFisherCO1.