Business ‘As Usual’ Is No Longer an Option for Northern Ireland

As we approach the Northern Ireland (NI) Assembly elections in May 2016, we are entering challenging and perhaps unchartered ‘economic and political waters’. Our politics, which are always challenging, are witnessing for the first time in decades, leadership and structural change. Our mandatory all Party coalition may be about to demerge, with new fresh faces emerging for election, as more and more of the battle hardened, longstanding political personalities take a back seat.

There has never been a more opportune time for change, particularly in our new economic paradigm, which is seeing meaningfully for the first time, significant reductions to the NI block grant. This fundamental change to Public Sector resourcing, NI’s prime economic driver, creates the compelling proposition ‘business as usual is no longer an option’.

NI’s most significant economic challenge is not a rebalancing of the economy between the Public and Private Sectors, as most pundits proclaim but the emergence of a more pluralist economy, creating the conditions for growth for a vibrant and enterprising social economy. NI is primarily a SME economy and recent assessments (Ulster Business Magazine) indicate that between 4% and 5% of the top 100 SME’s in NI are social enterprises.

As we move towards May elections and political parties are developing their manifestos, in parallel to the development of a new 3-year Programme for Government (PfG), Bryson has taken the initiative in developing its voice to encourage our policy makers and politicians to realign their thinking with a more socialised, outcome and impact driven NI economy. We believe that times have changed; deep public spending cuts, such as those experienced in other parts of the UK, are here to stay. It’s our view that the most effective solutions are to be found, not in looking for more money, but in a more radical approach. We believe, with innovation, imagination and a real focus on better outcomes, we could deliver improved public service outcomes at no additional costs, or indeed provide significant savings.

To encourage political dialog Bryson has developed a manifesto with 5 key policy asks (see below) which we believe provide major gains in delivering higher social impact and better outcomes.

Manifesto Download

1. Eradicating Fuel Poverty

Evidence
NI has the highest levels of fuel poverty (42%) in the UK. The main reason for this is the combination of lower incomes, higher fuel prices and a high dependence on oil, electric and solid fuel heating in NI. The current Government instrument to tackling fuel poverty is ‘Affordable Warmth’ (AW) which is focused specifically on 33,000 households deemed to be in most severe fuel poverty. Despite Government’s intervention, fuel poverty is increasing and AW ignores the ‘inconvenient’ 270,000 other fuel poor NI households.

Best practice
In Bryson, we have in the last year, piloted an innovative new “Whole House” approach to tackling fuel poverty in 102 properties in the Omagh/Strabane area, independently evaluated as demonstrating reduced fuel poverty and producing estimated RoI in the region of £2 for every £1 spent.

Our Ask
Realign interventions to an outcome driven “Whole House” programme – delivering a range of actions, which include providing energy use and budgeting advice; installing energy saving measures with associated job training/creation; energy price brokering; fuel switching support; benefits entitlement checks, etc. Such a Programme would be commissioned to deliver measurable reductions in fuel poverty; not spend and volume outputs.

2. Moving to Zero Waste

Evidence
In the last 10 years the recycling rates in NI increased from 18% to 41%. We need to find ways to drive this rate even higher to meet the UK 50% recycling target by 2020, while delivering local social and economic value. We now have a smaller Council structure here in NI; this is the perfect time to review waste management operations, assess the options and ask the question “which approach will give us the best outcomes for NI?”

Best Practice
In Bryson, we have fundamentally redesigned the approach to kerb-sort recycling and our award winning collection model is now being used across 11,000 homes in NI. This model enables Councils to achieve circa 60% recycling rates and to make substantial revenue and capital savings. Wales has now adopted this as their blueprint recycling model and Scotland are considering it. Our approach in Bryson focuses on producing quality materials that can be recycled locally; +90% remanufactured in local markets (UK & RoI).

Our Ask
Implement a “blueprint” recycling collection model that encourages householders to recycle and recovers high quality materials. Promote and support a ‘circular economy’ approach to recycling which creates local jobs and NI economic growth opportunities.

3. Tackling Unemployment

Evidence
NI has the worst long-term intergenerational youth and adult unemployment in the UK which includes more than 1 in 5 of our young people, particularly those with low skills in numeracy and literacy. The current policies are failing those most in need, moving people from one scheme to another without an opportunity to experience a real job.

Best Practice
In Bryson, we have developed partnerships with large public sector employers (Local Councils and Health and Social Care Trusts) that provide participants with on the job training and create real hope for sustainable job outcomes. Compared with the 25% employment outcomes from mainstream job programmes, our model delivers a 48% sustainable Job outcomes. Training in work, for work, provides the best outcomes for those living with long-term and intergenerational unemployment.

Our Ask
Create ‘waged’ work opportunities for those furthest from the labour market by engaging them in work of public benefit to make the transition from benefits to the world of work. Creating productive workers from hard to reach long-term unemployed people builds better futures and reduces the burden on public services such as Benefits, Health and Justice.

4. Creating an Economy for Social Impact

Evidence
NI spends around £3 billion annually to procure public services with a focus on price not social and economic impact. Not the most effective way to invest public money. Commissioning for optimum social and economic impact makes greater sense. Delivering this demands a deep-rooted transformation of how we procure and deliver public services, if we are to maximise social and economic impact and create sustainable high value jobs.

Best Practice
In Bryson, we have developed a social value framework in partnership with Ulster University and a number of public bodies, to plan for and measure social impact. This framework was developed as a flexible assessment tool to measure social impact and as such offers commissioners a real opportunity to reshape procurement in line with the EU Procurement Directive.

Our Ask
Ensure social impact is a priority in the new Programme for Government and legislate through a new NI Social Value Act to put a duty on the existing power to maximise social value as a fundamental outcome in all public service procurement.

5. Caring for our Ageing Population

Evidence
One quarter of the NI population will be over 60 in less than 20 years. Recent Reports demonstrate the need for new thinking in every aspect of health care to prepare for this demographic shift. Moving from over-reliance on acute provision to caring for people at home is a policy ‘no brainer’. Domiciliary care packages have been reduced to 15 minute visits. That is not good enough for our older generation, who need help to live dignified, independent lives. Supporting people to remain independent and in their own home costs much less than residential care. The difference is stark – on average the cost of care in your own home is £6,692 pa compared to £27,322 for residential care.

Best Practice
In Bryson, we have, in the last year, supported more than 4,000 older people across NI to remain in their own homes. We know their needs and listen to their concerns. It is clear to us that companionship is as important as the provision of basic living tasks. We believe that the current model of delivering care in the home through 15 minutes slots is not effective. Our recently launched ‘One2One’ relationship driven domiciliary care service’s popularity demonstrates the case for redesign.

Our Ask
Support individuals to live in their own home for as long as possible. To do this we need Government to fund the service appropriately. Key to this is to reduce the emphasis on acute care provision, using some of the savings achieved to invest in an expanded range of home care services while growing and up-skilling care staff.

By focussing on investing in the development of skilled care workers, we create high value jobs; develop career pathways for a new skilled care workforce able to deliver an expanded range of home person centred care services. We could create thousands of new jobs and careers in this area of work from entry level for those living with unemployment to high skilled higher value jobs.

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