Croydon Council and Croydon's PCT

Interview with Brian Stapleton, London Borough of Croydon

Brian Stapleton, Divisional Director of Partnerships, Business and Communities at the London Borough of Croydon, says that partnership working is “ingrained” as a philosophy among all the agencies in the borough.

The council, primary care trust (PCT), police, business groups, Learning and Skills Council and other agencies are signed up to a community strategy with some 250 targets, covering everything from waste to crime reduction to health promotion. The borough is also signed up to a local area agreement whose 130 targets can also be found on the community strategy.

Agencies have a long history of working together in Croydon, says Stapleton, partly due to the fact that the borough has a strong local identity. Early links were forged between the council and counterparts in health because the borough was one of only two in the capital which had its own health authority. Stapleton says:

“All the other boroughs had a health authority that covered a number of boroughs, but in Croydon the boundary was coterminous, so there were strong links between the chief executive of the council and the chief executive of the health authority. If you go back 10 years key people in high profile positions were very keen to make sure that different agencies worked together. They founded strong links.”

Those links were formalised in 2002 with the establishment of the local strategic partnership. Now, there are joint appointments including a director of public health and Stapleton himself, among others.

“I am responsible for the partnership and my role is a joint one between the PCT and the council.”

He is based at the authority but says he spends a lot of time at the PCT. The LSP covers nine ‘themes', including health, the economy, environment and culture and the council's cabinet members for these areas chair or co-chair each of these areas.

The borough also has 10 neighbourhood partnerships, covering the geographical area of Croydon. These neighbourhood partnerships meet every month and are a chance for the key players in the borough - including health, police, the business community and the council - to spread important messages to residents.

The council has been keen to share its knowledge and experience of engaging with the public, says Stapleton. And the PCT has been eager to attend these meetings. A local hospital is being redeveloped and representatives from the trust have spoken to concerned residents about their plans.

Not even the financial pressures facing the NHS have affected the partnership, says Stapleton.

“Both the council and the PCT are under huge pressure to reduce budgets and make efficiency savings. The PCT here has managed to escape much of the crisis affecting other parts of the country. It is very well run.”

The joint vision for the area is simple. Stapleton says:

“It's about taking the Croydon forward and improving the quality of life for residents in the borough.”

Interview with Caroline Taylor, Chief Executive of Croydon Primary Care Trust

Partnerships have long been seen as the route for delivering health services and tackling health inequalities in Croydon, says Caroline Taylor, Chief Executive of the London borough's primary care trust.

She says the borough's partners have a classic list of attributes that have helped to maintain joint working and ensured the partnership has continued to evolve since the early 1990s.

At the top of her list is leadership. In Croydon there has always been leadership from the top and a personal commitment to partnership working. Taylor says:

“This goes right through local authority members and chief executives, not just of the council and PCT but the voluntary sector and other statutory partners.”

She says crucially all the organisations have been prepared to put “their money where their mouths are” and resource partnership working. This also goes for building capacity in the partnership and ensuring staff have adequate training.

“We have invested time and energy in organisational development and getting the right skills people need to make it feel like a shared team.”

Commitment and momentum

To maintain this commitment and the momentum behind the partnership Taylor says you have to demonstrate to partner organisations that it is being taken seriously at the highest levels.

“You have to maintain key performance targets. These have to be signed off and reviewed at the highest levels so partners know that what they are doing matters.”

She adds that they always work as team, regardless of circumstances, and one of the great strengths in Croydon is that they never 'knock' each other publicly.

Taylor points to an inherent pragmatism in the borough, which means they “don't have partnerships simply for the sake of doing them”. There has to be some mutual benefit for all.

“You have to be in it for the long-term. Sometimes partners may contribute more than you, and one year you might not be getting any direct benefit, but next year you might."

She concedes that it's not always easy as partnerships need constant nurturing and can never be “left alone”. As part of this the borough is currently taking stock of its joint work under the local strategic partnership and Healthy Croydon Partnership.

Bridging the gap

She says there is a general joint sense of direction but recognises that there needs to be a clearer coherent vision for the next 10 to 20 years.

“That is a gap for us, on which we are working".

The partners jointly commission services and aim to align resources. They sometimes pool budgets through section 31 agreements. They have transferred finances between the PCT and council and manage them on behalf of each other.

Taylor dispels the “myths” that cultural barriers prevent such shared service delivery and adds that the obvious disparities in accountability, for example, have made little difference to the partnership.

“I don't think local government has more or less discretion over resources. That's a myth, we are both largely centrally funded. We both have national targets and have the same leadership challenges. I think there are more similarities than differences.”

16 October 2007

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