When a voluntary group hears that someone is coming to talk about their transport, the first reaction is often “please don’t take our bus away!” So I’ve been privileged to spend six months at EVOC supporting an innovative project to improve transport for third sector day centres and lunch clubs. Ageing populations and increasing expectations for community-based support mean growing transport needs and the Council is keen to find alternatives to simply paying more for expensive private minibus and taxi services or adding to the Council’s own Passenger Operations – the ‘white bus fleet’ which, with 73 vehicles is a substantial enterprise.
The Council therefore asked Edinburgh’s Community Transport (CT) providers for proposals to help meet this increasing demand for transport. Edinburgh has some of the best respected CT providers in Scotland (and the UK), several started as EVOC initiatives. Four groups – HcL (Handicabs), Lothian Community Transport Services, Pilton Equalities Project, and South Edinburgh Amenities Group (SEAG) – entered into a Public Social Partnership (PSP) with the Council in 2016 to work together to identify ways of improving efficiency, effectiveness and service quality.
My role at EVOC was mainly to facilitate the CT groups arriving at an agreed business case to meet the Council’s transport requirements. The proposed initiative, to be considered by Council Committee in October, may see new transport provision by CT groups beginning next year for a number of third sector day care services, lunch clubs and summer play schemes; A few personal reflections….
A Varying Appetite for Risk
No one doubts the benefits of partnership working; but because it requires a consensus, partnership can lead to low-risk options being favoured. Different partners invariably have a varying appetite for risk – this can mean that it is hard to get agreement for more ambitious, but more risky options. It may be easier to generate really innovative solutions where there is no need to keep a range of partners on-side.
While the project was conducted in the spirit of co-production, power in a co-production environment is rarely equally shared. The dynamics of co-production where one party has more power, influence – and yes, money! – than the others can be challenging.
Before I became involved in the project, a lot of effort had been put into establishing PSP governance. Although this created a sound platform for collaboration, limited progress had been made in actually extending the role of the CT groups on the ground, while a lot of energy and goodwill had been consumed. Too much emphasis on ‘process’ and not enough on ‘outcome’ can stifle creativity, enthusiasm and practical delivery.
Finally, the success of the PSP partners in reaching an agreed way forward is highly dependent on the willingness of the Council to positively review funding to the CT groups. It is much more difficult to achieve a successful outcome to a partnership change initiative where resources are reducing.