Policy Scope

How will the core vision of recovery fare as the transition to localism begins in earnest, asks Marcus Roberts

Turning tide?

 Has the high tide of ‘recovery’ as the organising principle for drug and alcohol services started to recede? There is certainly a question mark about how recovery will fare as the transition to ‘localism’ gets underway in earnest – with the election of police and crime commissioners (outside London) a few weeks ago, the abolition of the National Treatment Agency in April 2013 and the transfer of most of the drug and alcohol budget to directors of public health employed by local authorities. 

 While elements of recovery may well flourish in the transition to localism (for example, recovery-themed events, the development of recovery champions and a greater profile for mutual aid), there are potential grounds for concern about the core vision; that is, the understanding of drug treatment as ‘an individual person-centred journey’ and the focus on ‘social capital’ and barriers to social inclusion.

While many providers are embedding recovery in their practice, the impact of this will be limited unless local systems are designed and commissioned to support recovery (for example, integrating substance misuse services with mental health, youth services, housing and employment support).

 New local structures will provide some real opportunities for ‘joined up’ commissioning  – for example, health and wellbeing boards – but will local commissioners (such as directors of public health) be adequately supported to design recovery systems, particularly 

with limited budgets? Not so long ago we were told that there would be a ‘road map’ for new commissioners to replace Models of care and support them in the practical business of ‘building recovery in communities’. No proper map to help them to navigate a new and challenging terrain has ever materialised. 

 There is also a question about how we sell our sector to local decision-makers and communities in tough times. There is a lot to be said for emphasising the impact of drug services on crime – the crime reduction benefit is substantial, well evidenced, delivers a genuine good and speaks directly to community priorities. But representing drug service users mainly as prolific offenders, while it may lever investment, is to rely on a ‘politics of fear’, and not the message of hope – and the appeal to social justice – that is embodied in the recovery vision.

 This is not to counsel despair, nor to be naive about the need for compromise and accommodation (or, in the vernacular, ‘ducking and diving’). It is to stress, however, that if we are committed to the recovery ambition we need to be proactively championing it at local level in the months ahead.

 Marcus Roberts is director of policy and membership at DrugScope, the national membership organisation for the drugs field, www.drugscope.org.uk