Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
Enabling change

Enabling change

Improving the wellbeing of citizens in the UK and Ireland depends on a new and more ‘enabling state’ approach being adopted by the Government, according to Sir John Elvidge. To do that, he believes government needs to stop being a barrier to the empowerment of people.

This is one of several key actions outlined in a new report, A route map to an Enabling State, produced by Elvidge on behalf of philanthropic organisation, the Carnegie UK Trust. It marks the culmination of an 18-month research project to produce a comprehensive contemporary review of public policy reform from around the UK and Ireland on the topic of the nature and role of government.

Elvidge, who holds a Fellowship with the Carnegie UK Trust, said: “There is clear evidence that people wish to be in control of their own lives. There is also evidence that feeling in control is a factor in better physical and mental health. So it goes with the grain of both our individual and our collective interest to seek to maximise that control.

“I see this as a matter of seeing what is happening around us with fresh eyes and trying to build on the strengths of what communities, families and individuals are achieving, for themselves and each other. It is a description of contemporary realities, not a theory. The step forward in the document is about proposing what governments at all levels can do to encourage and support positive change.”

He continued: “We need to keep up with people’s view of the differences between what the state does well from what it doesn’t. The state is excellent at providing standardised services. Health is a good example of the relationship between citizens and the state. In the UK, we know that in most people’s eyes, the NHS remains the defining success of the post-war welfare reforms. However, the state’s ability to improve wellbeing in all circumstances is limited because each person sees their own wellbeing differently and the state isn’t good at individual responses. It works for the many on behalf of the majority. Where people want something which feels right for them individually or their family, they are increasingly finding ways to mix and match from a variety of sources.

“Governments need to empower and support communities and families. To do that, the first step will be difficult, governments need to stop doing things for people that they could organise and do themselves. The motives for trying to intervene may be benign but it doesn’t help in the long term. There are some great examples of better results achieved by communities across Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we believe we shall find more internationally, through our engagement with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). What this is about is learning from the best and adapting that into a new relationship between citizens and governments focused on wellbeing.”

Elvidge continued: “OECD said they would like to run a series of seminars for member states around these ideas. This is great and as far as I know, not something they’ve done before with ideas they had no part in commissioning. Once you are offered that invitation, it’s pretty obvious any dialogue between governments is going to arrive fairly rapidly to the question: ‘so what should governments do with this?’

“The most recent of the documents we produced tries to go into that territory, not just because it’s the right thing to do to enable the UK and Ireland debate to move forward, but also because it is the key to the international discussion and it’s the key to giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from a range of other countries. We recognised that if Carnegie didn’t do something to unlock this discussion, it wasn’t obvious that anyone else was going to.”

Rolf Alter, director for public governance and territorial development at the OECD, said: “OECD has made the restoration of trust between citizens and their governments a key theme in work on rebuilding economic wellbeing around the world.

“As a contribution to discussion about potential ways of achieving that, Sir John Elvidge’s work on the Enabling State has emerged as a new and interesting angle on how governments can develop a new type of relationship with their citizens. The work of the OECD and the Carnegie UK Trust shares an emphasis on exploring the practical actions that governments can take to strengthen trust through a more open and participatory exchange between government and citizens.”

The eight recommendations for governments put forward by Elvidge and the Carnegie UK Trust, are:

  1. Getting out of the way
  2. Giving permission
  3. Helping others help each other
  4. Giving people help to do more
  5. Giving people rights
  6. Making enabling the ‘new normal’ 
  7. Investing in disadvantaged communities
  8. A focus on wellbeing

Speaking to Holyrood about the work, Elvidge said one of the important things about the project is it covers the whole of the UK and Ireland.

He added: “Obviously the Carnegie Trust is based in Dunfermline and a lot of my experience is Scottish, so we can’t help having Scottish examples in our mind but it isn’t a piece of work about Scotland. One of the fundamental messages of the work is that governments everywhere have made the same sort of progress and are stuck on the same sorts of issues.

“Once we get beyond the boundaries of the family, what is it we can see there that tells us about the choices whole communities make. By and large, I was thinking about physical communities. I was tapping that into what I knew around housing and regeneration but I also started looking at other examples of what communities do for themselves around health, around being good parents and early years. In the conventional public policy debate, one of the big messages is that early intervention is the key to quality success. It’s no surprise that families and communities understand this but they go about it in different ways.“I started to think increasingly about what the existing evidence told us about which other approaches were working. Broadly speaking, all around us we can see people mixing and matching what they take from the state and what they choose to organise for themselves. When we look at what people actually do, it is a bit of both.

“I began asking myself, why does that sometimes appear to work better than what government tries to do? In an era where we’ve elevated the idea of professionalism in various ways, why is it that the non-professional solution sometimes seems to result in more interesting outcomes?

“Part of the point of this document is we thought we’d put some propositions out there. We’re not claiming that we’re right but it gives people the chance to say, ‘no, we think something different’.”

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by - Automated Vehicles Bill becomes law.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top