For me it starts with an understanding of what decisions are best made at system level and what decisions are best made at place level. Certainly, I would imagine one of the first things that ICBs and ICPs would need to do, once established, would be to determine how to set up a system-wide framework for ensuring equality and equity in terms of how its health and care service is delivered, and then determine how and where it is most appropriate that more detailed decisions come to be made at place level. Otherwise, the system simply becomes too unwieldy.
There are risks that those partners sitting at that system level will draw decision making into those spaces, rather than pushing it back out to localities, because it is the simplest, in many ways the most efficient and apparently the most co-ordinated way of doing it, but in practice it will not serve the interests of local accountability or better outcomes. That raises the prospect of certain services being delivered in different ways in different localities, depending on the political priorities of different councils, but that is local democracy—that is local government bringing its understanding of the demographics of the populations it serves into the conversation.
I think this can all be made to work if there is sufficient transparency in the system, so that those within and those outside it understand how decisions are being made, on what subjects, and by whom. When you have that clarity, it becomes easier to unpick what is happening at place level. Are decisions being made at system level that would be more appropriately made at a lower level? Is there consistency across the entire system? What does the geography mean for decision making and commissioning, and these kinds of things? It provides assurance, and it provides everybody with more confidence that decisions are being made properly in the interests of local people.
Going back to the point I made before, that is also why some external local accountability is so important, because effective local external accountability can challenge the system on whether the right decisions are being made at the right level, and whether they reflect and are responsive to what the local needs are. Local scrutiny committees are, at the moment, anchored at place level within local authorities. They are well able to publicly draw in the voice and concerns of the public about those kinds of issues, and transmit them to health and care partners so that there is a clear way for those concerns and issues to be responded to.