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Council leader provides latest update in weekly column

Posted on 9 Sep 2020

The health of a population is intrinsically linked with the economic and social conditions of that population. For decades that has meant that on a plethora of health measurements, from life expectancy to obesity to smoking, Ayrshire has been living with several health warnings. Without immediate intervention that could be about to get worse.

First and foremost, Coronavirus is a public health crisis but as I have repeatedly stated in these columns, it is now manifesting itself into an economic and social crisis too and that will be bad for our region’s health. It will place even greater strain on an already pressurised health system, with both the NHS board and the Health and Social Care Partnership struggling in recent times to meet the health needs of citizens within the financial envelope set for them, even when that envelope has been increasing.

That’s why I was grateful for the opportunity to present to members of the NHS Ayrshire and Arran board on Community Wealth Building on Monday past.

The NHS is our most treasured public service. It is there when we bring new life into this world, there when we are sick and there at the end of one’s life.

During the first few months of the lockdown we connected with the NHS in a different way as we stood at our doorways on a Thursday evening to express our gratitude to NHS staff, carers and all key workers for their efforts in keeping us safe during the pandemic.

That the NHS is a much-loved institution is not in question. But it should be an institution open to doing things better.

And that includes NHS boards making a far greater contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of the residents they care for.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran is an ‘Anchor Institution’ with considerable resources. It has an annual revenue budget of over £700million, employs over 9000 staff and has been involved in several high-profile capital projects in North Ayrshire in recent years such as Woodlands View and Trindlemoss.

Through Community Wealth Building, NHS Ayrshire and Arran can use its resources to improve the economic and social conditions of Ayrshire, and thus improve the health of the people of Ayrshire.

What a difference it would make to our region if NHS Ayrshire and Arran, working alongside North Ayrshire Council’s Community Wealth Building team, started to use the power of its procurement spend to support the local economy, protecting local jobs and creating new ones.

Or if, as Ayrshire’s largest employer, recruitment policies were targeted towards lifting local people out of poverty, offering new opportunities for training and career progression for local people.

And what if, as we face the next crisis, the climate crisis, the NHS played its part in transitioning to a green economy, particularly as across the UK the NHS is responsible for 40% of the public sector’s carbon emissions.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran officers have been members of our Community Wealth Building Commission since its launch last September. I was delighted with the response of board members to Monday’s workshop session. Board members often wrestle with ways in which to influence the strategic direction of the organisation, with most not being health professionals themselves. But, within the board there is a recognition that Acute services will never prevent someone from living in poverty but living in poverty can result in someone requiring Acute services. And therefore, NHS Ayrshire and Arran operating as an Anchor Institution, with a Community Wealth Building approach to policy, can be the preventative approach that boosts public health as well as the local economy.

Community Wealth Building is the perfect approach to ensure that the full benefits of NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s “Caring for Ayrshire” transformation programme, and the proposed investments within the programme, are shared by communities across Ayrshire.

In the coming weeks, we hope to be in a position to launch our Community Wealth Building Anchor Charter. The Charter will ask Anchor Institutions, like NHS Ayrshire and Arran, to sign up and give commitment to pledges aligned to the five pillars of Community Wealth Building. Following the success of Monday’s board workshop, I am confident that the local health board will sign the Charter and start implementing actions that help build, and retain, wealth in our local area.

The NHS board is not the only Community Wealth Building presentation I have given recently. Last Wednesday I spoke at the CEIS, Social Enterprise conference which was attended by over 200 people virtually. Later this week I am also meeting, again virtually, the Glasgow Centre for Population and also a senior officer of Strathclyde Pension Fund. Since we launched the Community Wealth Building strategy in May there has been a great deal of interest locally, nationally and internationally, re-enforcing our belief that we have started on an exciting journey for the local economy.