Joined up public services Cambridge style

This is a bit of a follow-on post from Today at the Job Centre but has more of a focus on joined up public services in Cambridge – where I live. It also follows on from a number of conversations/social media exchanges I’ve had with elected councillors and candidates from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and the Greens in and around Cambridge.

First of all, what are, and why ‘joined up’ public services?

My understanding of joined up public services is where the different services and agencies work with each other at all levels of their organisations to provide help, support and services to the public as and when they need them. Joined up public services are also delivered in a manner that is most convenient for, and most effective for those members of the public to help them deal with the challenges that life throws at them.

Why is this good? Because doing so means that using public services is less stressful for people who both use and deliver them, can mean that problems are nipped in the bud before they escalate and finally it can save a lot of money in the longer term. A happier workforce is more likely to be a productive workforce. Dealing with the problems that people face may also mean less time off work and/or increased chances of people with problems being able to contribute something positive to society.

Having observed some of the people who use the job centre, some clearly have problems that go beyond being unemployed – for example the street drinkers that hang around outside the premises. But there are also people who might be suffering in silence. The impact of unemployment on the mental health of individuals is well known, and is getting more attention now that unemployment – especially among the young has reached what I think are dangerously high levels.

The two things that I want to discuss in this post are the physical locations of some of the services provided in Cambridge, and the working relationships between those who work within the different institutions and agencies.

Location

The first is one that I touched on in the earlier post.

As far as I’m concerned, the Cambridge Job Centre is effectively in the middle of nowhere. A hideous building on a prime piece of land overlooking the river and Jesus Green. Why not sell the site off and relocate the job centre to somewhere that is on more public transport routes and that is closer to other public service providers?

My take is that the current site could be used much more productively for the economy of the city – for example a hotel to provide competition against the Arundel House Hotel just down the road. There are few medium-large hotels within walking distance of the town centre for the number of visitors that visit the city.

Where to relocate the job centre? One possible place is just outside the Grafton Centre – perhaps around the Fitzroy Street area. Several bus routes from the north of the city go past that area making it more accessible to public transport users. Would it be possible to move the City Council’s housing department away from Mandela House to have both housing and employment benefits delivered from the same building?

There are a number of other facilities in the area both within the Grafton Centre and along Burleigh Street. Could a ‘walk in’ NHS clinic be established in that area too? .

– or even keeping them all in the same area. Is there scope to incorporate the council’s housing benefits office, the local CVS (volunteering advice centre), the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau and even setting up a local NHS health and dental clinic all in one accessible venue?

People

One of the things I’ve pondered is the impact a “super-social worker” could have for those individuals and families that are dealing with multiple problems. Rather than having lots of different people from different agencies dealing with one family, would it not be better to have a knowledgeable, high calibre, competent and empowered individual to deal with all of the dealings such people have with public sector agencies? Rather than going to individuals to deal with the process-related issues (I’ve dealt with three different job centre advisers on three occasions) surely it is much more stabilising for individuals to have a named contact to go to for everything?

Having this model may also free up a significant amount of time for the rest of job centre plus and housing office staff to deal with the more routine cases, reducing stress all round for everyone. It may well be a model that has already been adopted in some areas already – if so, please use the comments field to describe how it works in your area.

The other barrier that I alluded to was the “empowered” bit – the public sector is hierarchical to ensure systems of accountability both of actions and of spending public money. But it can also become a barrier, in particular when you get into ‘turf wars’ – something that I’ve seen at the most junior of administrative levels all the way up to ministerial level – as well as in the private sector too. In the case of those families and individuals with multiple needs, is it possible to develop a role for ‘super social workers’ who have reasonably high grades across different agencies so that if they need to pull rank on occasions, they can?

Interested in your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Joined up public services Cambridge style

  1. The building is horrid but it is fine for buses Citi1,2,3,4,8 all go very close either run pass or Mitcham’s Corner.
    Super social worker, generic, has been tried and 4 most ppl was not very successful but works well 4 ppl with muliple agemcy input

  2. Personally, I think what would make more sense is for those working on the frontline at the DWP, to have more specialised training to deal with individuals. I know the Job Centre is a one-size-fits-all idea, but as it stands at the moment, with unemployment increasing, it would be better for everyone if Advisors were able to offer more tailored advice. I’ve seen several different people when I was signing on. My husband was also claiming, and would often be in and out in about 5 minutes. He’s had no support to get into work, whereas I was fortunate enough to end up with someone who was on the ball and who has got me accepted onto a Training for Work scheme. There’s so many people of so many differing abilities signing on now – it would be so much better if instead of being divided according to length of time on the dole, you were divided depending on say, your educational background, or your family set up. The needs of a skilled trademan is different to that of someone who has been made redundant from a call centre. But the system treats them both the same, offers the same generic advice, and presents the same hoops to jump through. Of course, sadly the current Govt aren’t leaving the benefits processes alone for long enough to allow JCP Advisors to catch up on anything. In many cases, it’s not that the advisors aren’t willing to offer help, it’s that it’s impossible for them to be fully informed at any given moment of all opportunities.

  3. In principle a good idea, but whenever the idea of colocating multiple agencies is raised I get a cold sweat flashback to a PFI white-elephant of the sort that we’ve seen rather too many of in recent years. Cambridge is a small place and easy to get around if you aren’t driving. Playing musical chairs wouldn’t necessarily improve things enough for the disruption.

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