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AGENTS FOR CHANGE

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As the number of older people in communities grows it is time to make use of and encourage the skills they offer, s...
As the number of older people in communities grows it is time to make use of and encourage the skills they offer, says Martin Shreeve, programme director, Better Government for Older People

The number of people over 65 in Britain is expected to increase by 50% in the next 30 years, and nearly half the population will be over 50. Since May 1998 a unique partnership of central and local government, voluntary organisations and older people has tried to demonstrate that engaging all stakeholders and harnessing the skills and experience of people over 50 can transform services.

Under the Better Government for Older People programme, 28 pilot projects led by councils across the UK have demonstrated that engaging with older people can lead to better decision making, better services and a more strategic and joined-up approach. Recommendations based on this programme were published in June in All our futures.

The programme has been evaluated by Warwick University. Its report, Making a difference, together with the views of older people engaged with the programme, is published alongside All our futures.

The report urges the government and the media to positively promote the image of older people and tackle ageism. It calls on all councils to plan strategically for an ageing population and develop new ways to engage with older people in their community.

The Local Government Association and other professional organisations are urged to work together to make sure the learning from the programme is spread.

To help share the learning, Warwick University's evaluation highlights what has made pilot projects successful.

The pilots experiencing the greatest success in developing strategically had clear links with modernisation, not just in terms of local political or managerial structures, but initiatives such as best value, health action zones or regeneration.

The status of being part of a nationally profiled programme, and the wider modernising government initiative led by Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney, was a driver for local change. Even when resources were not available from the national programme, this was an enabler or catalyst for local investment.

The financial and staff resources from central government departments and agencies, including the Benefits Agency, the Home Office, the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health were drivers for strategic change for many pilots.

Leadership was an important success factor. Where this was exercised by key council members acting as champions with an engaged chief executive, Better Government for Older People was most likely to be seen as a corporate priority.

The pilots lacking a political champion or the support of politicians who were not seen to be influential within the council had most difficulty in transferring project success into sustainable change. Equally, pilots with engaged and

supportive lead chief officers experienced great difficulties if therewas not a wider corporate ownership within the management team.

Resources are obviously important. While no pilot found the need to invest heavily in infrastructure, the investment of a small operating budget to oil the wheels was essential. Engagement with older people, and even consultation, requires resourcing if it is to be effective and inclusive.

The pilots able to tap mainstream budgets wider than social services were most effective. Shared resourcing brings ownership as well as new capacity. Projects attracting external funding, either from central government agencies or other partners, were able to exercise more influence corporately and strategically.

Crucially, in successful pilots, older people have been the focus of activity and a resource for change. This has taken many forms. Engaged older people were an information resource, champions for change in their council and the wider community, and in many cases both service standard evaluators and direct providers.

The programme has emphasised the significance of involving older people, not merely as a means of countering discrimination or pursuing a goal of greater social inclusion, but in recognising and harnessing the contributions older people have to make in building a better Britain.

Modernising government, local democracy and delivering best value demand older people play a more active part in their communities. Older people have the potential to be the glue, the social capital, that binds and rebuilds our communities.

But older people cannot deliver on their own. They need a supportive, inter-generational compact that is inclusive and active. It needs central and local mechanisms to support such a compact and develop its capacity.

Our experience from the pilot programme is that while the goal may be achievable, the mechanisms are not in place in all areas, not sufficiently sustainable in most and the capacity is not fully developed in any to deliver on the ambition or aspiration.

Change is required at all levels of government and service provision if we are to achieve better government, more effective services, security for all our futures and a better quality of life in older age.

All our futures is available from Better Government for Older People, Wolverhampton Science Park, Wolverhampton WV10 9RU. Tel: 01902-824270. Information about the 28 pilot projects is available at www.bettergovernmentforolderpeople.gov.uk

ENGAGE OLDER PEOPLE BY:

Appointing an older people's champion and making local strategies and cross-cutting services for older people a corporate priority

Supporting older people to play a fuller role in policy making, and ensuring that older people's concerns are heard and acted upon as part of councils' duties under best value and community strategies

Using the new power in the Local Government Bill to promote the well-being of your area to initiate a strategic approach to the challenges of an ageing population.

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