LOCAL AUTHORITIES should stop whining about "initiative overload", Oonagh Aitken, the newly-appointed chief executive of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, warned this week. They must consider the bigger picture and tackle "the culture of professional tribalism" if key services such as education are to be delivered effectively.
Ms Aitken was speaking in Glasgow at a launch conference of "Sure Start Scotland", the Government's pound;42 million initiative targeting "vulnerable" youngsters and their families.
She welcomed the fact that Sure Start is at the heart of the Government's social inclusion agenda. But it must be linked to "the bigger picture", including community planning, service improvements, strategic partnerships and sustainability. It should also build on successful existing initiatives at the local level, avoiding "creeping centralism".
The Cosla chief also called for new approaches to tackle the barriers to effective delivery of services: " We must change the culture of professional tribalism, and pre-service training is needed to help cross the divides which currently exist. Most barriers are ones of attitude."
Ms Aitken later urged the Scottish Executive to be more flexible in how money is allocated. She said mainstream budgets must not be cut to finance initiatives. "When objectives are identified, the local authorities should be given a free hand to decide how to deliver." Government should give authorities a pot of money for social inclusion, perhaps called a "social inclusion fund package".
Danny McCafferty, education convener in West Dunbartonshire and chair of Cosla's education committee, said there should be greater communication between national and local government. "Since 1997 there have been so many initiatives fed through the existing system, but they have been coming out piecemeal. The Government is on the right tracks but has to come up with a clear overview. We are not short of initiatives, but what we need now is initiative management," she said.
Bernard McLeary, education director in Inverclyde, agreed and suggested that Sure Start was a good example of an initiative that must fit in with what local authorities are already doing. "We need a signal from central government that they take joined-up government seriously. It would also be helpful if we had three year budgets, thus guaranteeing sustainability of initiatives. I would support the idea of a social inclusion funding package, allowing authorities to get on with delivering Government priorities."
Ms Aitken supported the arguments for three-year budgets to make projects more sustainable. This would particularly benefit of the voluntary sector, which is taken "to the wire" because of the uncertainties caused by year-on-year funding.