Scotland must grasp this moment for change - Fiona Duncan

Once upon a time, ten years ago to this very day, Dr Campbell Christie and his fellow commissioners shared a story about the magical land Scotland could become. People loved all 100 pages, and the story has been re-read and re-told many, many times since.

Fiona Duncan, Chair of The Promise Scotland
Fiona Duncan, Chair of The Promise Scotland

The Christie Commission reported at a moment of crisis: increasing demand for public services in the context of spending constraints and resistance to revenue raising through taxation. It outlined a solution: urgent reform underpinned by four principles built around people and communities; integrated, outcomes-focused provision; equality and prevention; and constant improvement. It gave hope.

Yet last February, eight and a half years on, when the Independent Care Review concluded, its description of the ‘care system’ from the perspective of those who had experience of it was of a bureaucratic cluster of silos, unable to operate cohesively, communicating inconsistently or ineffectively, too often focused on targets rather than needs. A mirror of Christie.

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The Care Review’s conclusions came from over 5,500 stories, more than half of whom were care experienced babies, infants, children, young people and families, who’d selflessly shared their own, intimate and often painful experiences with the promise of change.

They hoped for a Scotland that listens to, respects, and involves children, young people and families in every decision that affects them. Change that supports families to stay together and prioritises safe, loving relationships that are important to children and young people. Change that makes love the value that drives everything and that everything operates around.

A promise was made on 5 February 2020 that urgent work would start immediately to make sure that, within a decade, this vision would be the reality.

Christie knew that institutions and structures resist change, especially radical change.

Yet, the sustained, collective buy-in to #KeepThePromise has created the environment required for collaborative implementation across multiple sectors and agencies towards that single, shared long-term vision. More than 100 organisations willingly got involved with devising Plan 21-24, the first of three, 3-year plans, and last Friday, Change Programme ONE, an action plan for this coming year, was published.

Today, it’s eight and a half years away from the day that promise must be kept in full, and Scotland is in new territory.

The Promise Scotland’s (the organisation tasked with supporting the implementation of the review) assessment of the twenty-five priority areas in Change Programme ONE is that only nine are on track, fifteen are insufficient and there is nothing underway in one.

This isn’t simply down to resistance. For years there has been talk of Scotland’s ‘implementation gap’.

Change of this scale and nature requires adapts to legislation, policy, practice and culture across literally hundreds of organisations, national and local, resulting in many implementation cracks, fissures and chasms.

It also requires careful sequencing, with some aspects not being able to shift until something else does, a breadth of responsibility and shared accountability that risks excuses along the lines of ‘it’s not us that’s not moving, it’s them – they’re in our way’.

At a national level, political responsibility sits with the Deputy First Minister, with references across eight Cabinet Secretaries and five Ministerial portfolios, 26 of 43 Scottish Government directorates and 49 of 117 policy areas. But full cross-party support to #KeepThePromise means that there is no political impediment to getting on at pace.

As Scotland emerges from the shadow of COVID-19, it has never been more important to bridge the gap between political intent and the lived experience of children and families.

Just as Christie’s story gave hope in a crisis, so too must Scotland’s promise to change. We must grasp this moment.

Fiona Duncan, Chair of The Promise Scotland

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