Common Good Communities

November 17, 2015

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Written by Steven Wyler, Associate of the Carnegie UK Trust, and a member of the Call to Action for the Common Good initiative.

With a Fife Council budget of £1.168 billion, an NHS Fife budget of £644 million and a combined staff of over 26,000 capable, knowledgeable and committed people, how can Fife become a fair region for the 75,000 people currently living in poverty in the Kingdom? When viewed in these terms, the challenge set by Fife Council and the Fife Partnership to the Fairer Fife Commission, to take an overview of the scale, scope and nature of poverty in Fife and report with recommendations for creating a fairer Fife, does not appear insurmountable. But, of course, challenges remain.

The issues affecting our life chances in the 21st century are complex. In recommending how to create a fairer Fife, should the Commission just focus on our health and wealth? Or, instead, issues such as the affordability of our homes, and if we have access to broadband and digital technology? But don’t all of these issues change over the course of our lives – as we move from education to employment, to starting a family, to retirement?

To identify the priorities for those living in poverty in Fife at all ages and stages of life, the Commission released acall for evidence for citizens and undertook visits to third sector organisations to collect personal testimony from those experiencing poverty, as well as inviting representatives from Fife Council and partner agencies to provide verbal evidence around its four themes. And to capture the priorities of the younger generation, looked-after children from Fife came to talk to Commissioners about what is important for them to live well in Fife, facilitated by the Children’s Parliament.

As a direct result of this engagement, in its new report the Commission defines a fairer Fife is as ‘a Fife where all residents have the capability to live good lives, make choices and reach their full potential and where all children are safe, happy and healthy’. To achieve this, the Commission set the ambition for Fife Council and the Fife Partnership for Fife to be in the top five Scottish local authority areas for fairness measures by 2030. In the next fifteen years, this would result in a Fife which is ambitious, poverty-free, a region of fair work, affordable, connected, empowered, skilled and healthier. But going from rhetoric to reality, what would this mean for Fifers?

Different ambitions present different challenges but in many cases, there is an opportunity to help significant numbers of people in Fife, or, in some instances, a smaller number of people in need of significant help.For example, being in the top five Scottish local authorities for least children in poverty would result in 5,777 fewer children in poverty in the Kingdom, and to be in the top five for the number of people of working age with qualifications would see 15,340 more people with qualifications. And meeting the ambitions for an empowered Fife would transform the local democratic landscape and voluntary sector, with 29,918 more voters in council elections and 35,494 more people volunteering. But no less significant would be the 57 more young people from deprived areas gaining more than five awards at Level 5, or 20 more pupils with more than five awards at Level 6.

To achieve this by 2030, the Commission recommends that Fife Council and its partners revisit not only on what they work on, but how they work.  Firstly, they should be open and transparent about the progress they are making to improve accountability and allow communities and citizens to track activities designed to improve fairness against the 15-year ambition. There is also a significant opportunity to build on the excellence within Fife on collecting data to analyse and describe problems to use this data to inform what services are delivered and how and become truly data driven and knowledge rich. All partners should make citizens and their capabilities, voices and community assets the focus of their approach to improving fairness and access to opportunities for all across the region. Finally, the public, private and voluntary sectors should work in partnership with citizens, families and communities as part of a mega community and work together towards progress.

But data and new ways of working alone will not tell the story of how far Fife has come in becoming a fairer region to live, work and visit. Fife Council and its partners must remember to tell the story of change and what it means for those 75,000 people and their families. Because only the story of change of how a fairer Fife was created will capture the imagination of towns, cities and regions across the country and help to create a fairer Scotland.