How councils and housing associations can collaborate for impact – a report by NLGN (New Local Government Network) think tank – reminds us that local authorities, HAs, and the health sector are intrinsically linked. They face many similar challenges and overlapping staff partnerships, which has led to successful collaborative working in the past, resulting in benefiting the partners and service users involved. There are now significant opportunities to further accelerate and embed these collaborative approaches for the long-term. In doing this, a number of barriers, both real and perceived, need to be overcome.
The report explores the benefits of collaboration, barriers to collaboration and integrated services, and case studies highlighting how some partnerships have successfully overcome these. Learning from good practice, the report presents a toolkit to advance collaboration, and sets out five broad recommendations for local authorities, HAs, and health partners to further embed collaboration:
· Local authorities should establish cross-departmental working groups, which involve local housing associations and health partners to examine opportunities develop and deepen collaboration and integrated services.
· Partners should design and deliver cross-sector hack days to redesign services around residents and users from the bottom up. Hack days are time limited, collaborative problem-solving groups that can be used to redesign holistic cross-sector services around residents.
· Where deeper collaboration with local government and health is desired, housing associations should appoint an officer with a specific remit to engage across sectors and proactively build relationships.
· Partners should establish structures to share community data. Gathering and sharing data across sectors which demonstrates collective issues, priorities, financial savings from collaboration and outcomes for users would help partners agree priorities and report and measure success.
· Central government should take forward recommendations proposed in the Service Transformation Challenge Panel report and consider the key role that housing associations can play in this space.
The case for collaboration seems compelling for residents – ‘’offering a more holistic and integrated package of support between local government, housing and health for people with often complex and multiple needs, reflects the reality of people’s lives’’. This can be achieved by deeper collaboration across sectors, if services join together and wrap around the individual rather than being disparate and disjointed.
It is fair to say that problems are not isolated within one agency or organisation, but they are interdependent and often mutually-reinforcing. For instance, some local authorities still fail to recognise the potential for HAs to play a role in addressing the health, social and broader economic challenges of local people. Some tend to believe that housing associations should focus solely on their principal development and landlord functions; they believe they lack the skills and expertise to develop and deliver a broader social offer. These perceptions should be challenged.
Not least, the prospect of prolonged austerity and the potential for further welfare reform in the coming years demands an acceleration of the innovation emerging across sectors on the mechanics of service delivery to drive forward deeper collaboration across sectors.