Is it possible that the actions of a homeless person who once slept rough on the streets of London could provide the necessary inspiration to Scotland’s public bodies to help them adapt to change (necessary because of the acute funding challenge that they face)?, asks Don Peebles, Policy and Technical Manager, CIPFA Scotland.
At the moment, the budgets of Scotland’s public bodies are in the process of being approved and the scale of the financial challenge as well as the need to adapt to change, if not already known, is now only too apparent.
Scotland’s public bodies are of course trying to plan and deliver their future services with less resources. Adapting to that change and finding the necessary inspiration will be the challenge for health bodies, further and higher education bodies and local government in fact all of Scotland’s public bodies who find themselves in these unprecedented times. Each one will in some way have to find a way to adapt to the type and scale of change. Whether it is charging for services otherwise free at the point of delivery – itself a major change in a public service context, or finding a new and innovative way to deliver public services, the pace of change feels not as quick as the pace at which funding is decreasing. Radical is an overused word but it now accurately defines the type of actions that Scotland’s public bodies, themselves stable organisations, by design, will be required to implement.
But what are the possibilities that the inspiration to tackle that change could come from an unlikely source? John Bird, a homeless orphan from the age of five in London, eventually slept rough on the streets, turned to crime but eventually brought about a remarkable turnaround in his own life. He emerged from his own unprecedented times with a strong belief in what we now refer to as social enterprise but more significantly in self-help. He is now a champion of social businesses but is best known as a co-founder of the Big Issue, the paper which was designed to help homeless people help themselves. It is that notion of self-help where Scotland’s public bodies could potentially find their inspiration. Homeless people generating income while providing a service would previously have been inconceivable. But the Big Issue seller is now an accepted part of Scotland’s high streets, and is a change that both seller and purchaser have adapted to.
If a homeless person for example can adapt to change by providing a new service in return for a small fee, what are the possibilities for our public bodies? Could it be simply that a new and imaginative funding stream has to be identified? Importantly, John Bird’s vision of the possibilities of change did not stop with the individual, he also seen possibilities to bring about social change by redirecting loan finance to small businesses. Could that prompt thoughts on distribution of public resources and rethinking what is normal? His most recent initiative is a loyalty based system encouraging a ‘think local shop local’ regime.
So when John Bird speaks at CIPFA Scotland’s conference in Dundee in March, he will speak to the very public servants currently facing their own turning points and seeking those new service delivery options and encouraging a sense of enterprise in their own public bodies. The possibility therefore that a once homeless orphan could inspire the current generation of public servants is entirely feasible.