JOINT WORKING

Published: 03/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5980 Page 28 29

We open our enhanced Good Management section with a report on a summit that brought together regional agencies with a combined spend of£6.3m. Linda Pollard and Peter Noble explain

Partnership-working can be an overused phrase. But in West Yorkshire, chief officers across a range of public and private organisations have been involving key decision makers more directly in the partnership process to secure greater sustainable development of health and wealth for local people.

In summer 2004, a small think tank of senior officers from the regional government office, West Yorkshire strategic health authority and Leeds University considered how, by working together in new ways, organisations could tackle problems more effectively in partnership, and with a real local impact.

These initial talks provided the impetus for a West Yorkshire summit, where over 30 chief officers gathered at Headingley Stadium in Leeds. They came from NHS organisations, local authorities, universities, the Learning and Skills Council, JobCentreplus, the government office and the Regional Development Agency.

The summit was based on three fundamental ideas. First, with a combined public sector spend of around£6.3bn, the agencies felt they could work together to address big issues such as health inequalities, raising public health, increasing educational attainment and boosting the skills uptake of deprived communities.

Second, the participants believed that economic, health and social development would reinforce one other in a virtuous 'investment triangle' where improved health status and systems could attract more inward investment and improve the local skills base. An area with a healthier population and good health services, for example, is more attractive to prospective businesses.

Third, the summit brought the opportunity for fresh thinking on whole systems-working, and creating enduring partnerships with a greater capacity for negotiation and trade-offs so that one partner is more inclined to support another.

Traditionally, collaborative working has not tended to incentivise unpredictable 'win-lose-lose-win' chains even though all partners may benefit from these relationships in the long run.

National leaders from across the sectors set the context by sharing their perspectives on partnership.

They were Higher Education Funding Council for England chief executive Sir Howard Newby; Learning and Skills Council deputy national chair Dame Sandra Burslem; Department of Health human resources director Andrew Foster; local government adviser to the NHS Tony Elson; and MP for Normanton and former Treasury chief economic adviser Ed Balls. The group has been supported and facilitated by Professor Laurie McMahon from the Office for Public Management.

A telephone survey of a crosssection of participants and other key players in the region also helped frame the challenges on partnership-working in West Yorkshire and identified a range of ideas and perspectives on collaboration.

The research found that, even where there were existing partnerships, there was nothing in the system to help partners learn or to allow others to exploit their experience. For partnership-working to be effective, each partner's objectives, targets and performance management criteria had to be adopted by the other partners so the benefits of working together were not offset by failing to deliver on the 'must dos'.

There was also a feeling that too much effort could be spent in devising a shared vision at the start of a project and not enough on getting on with resolving the issues.

To explore new ways of working together, three action learning projects were chosen by the group to 'learn by doing'. Chosen as significant issues that would impact on the lives of local people and where real improvements could be demonstrated, they were also required to be existing issues on the agendas of the agencies involved.

One group looked at how to raise the aspirations of young people in Wakefield aged 16-24 who had never been in employment and were likely to be receiving incapacity benefit.

This project is now exploring how to identify and support young people as well as providing opportunities for learning and training, leading to employment in health and social services agencies across the district.

A second project focused on how to improve quality of life for older people living in Bradford, and forms a major strand of the local area agreement.

The third area was the National Academy for Sustainable Skills in Holbeck, Leeds, where an initial£13m government investment over the next three years is supplemented by support from the three local RDAs. It will develop and support action learning and training in a real-life environment for an area identified as a regeneration target.

By the end of the summit the 'Headingley Group' had signed up to an 'agreement from chief officers across a range of organisations in West Yorkshire to revitalise partnership working and learn by 'doing business differently', delivering real innovation and making a tangible difference to improving health and wealth in the region'.

A second summit earlier this year included leaders from the private sector - the missing link from the first round of discussions.

Lessons learned from the projects were shared, with a focus not so much on what had been achieved, but how, and the changes in behaviours that emerged as people began to work together in a different way.

It became clear that it was the informal networks that had arisen from the first meeting rather than the formal structures and committees that had been the key to achieving results. This represented a change from partnership structures to partnership behaviours.

The group took the opportunity of having so many of West Yorkshire's decision-makers and business leaders in one room to consider the regional economic strategy and how the partnership might maximize the£6.3bn investment in the public sector across the area by working differently.

By the end of the second summit, a number of key roles for the group had emerged. There was a strong consensus to continue to exploit the 'learning network' function of the group, to use it as a vehicle for learning with and from each other.

The nature and membership of the group could also develop as a test bed to respond to and influence national policy.

Finally, it was felt that, by increasing strategic integration across the public, private and voluntary sectors, the group could act as a magnet for inward investment, thereby increasing the level of sustainable resources to deliver the best for West Yorkshire.

A consultation is now under way to look at the best way to maximise the efforts and work of the group, and inform priorities for the forthcoming year. .

Linda Pollard is chair of West Yorkshire SHA and Peter Noble is director of health development at Leeds University.

This week, HSJ has launched a new online Good Management service for our readers. For specific background information and good practice on joint-working, visit

www. goodmanagement-hsj/ jointworking