The launch of Collective Voice saw the group emphasising their commitment to service users.
‘It’s Important that our Service Users inform our services,’ said Lord Victor Adebowale, at the recent ‘official’ launch of Collective Voice at the House of Lords. The group of voluntary sector organisations came together to provide a coherent voice from the drug and alcohol treatment sector.
‘We’ve certainly got our work cut out. When the environment gets tough, we can retrench, take a defensive approach – or come together and represent the interests of people we seek to help,’ said Karen Biggs, the group’s chair.
‘We knew we were about to face a reduction in public spend but the needs of our service users are high,’ she said.
‘As providers we had never worked together before… Yes we fight like cat and dog over tenders – but on important stuff we’re all agreed. We’ve proved we speak with a collective voice.’
The group’s chair Paul Hayes agreed that the objective was to improve the lives of service users: ‘We’re not set up to just exist,’ he said. ‘We’re set up because real things need to be done.’ This included trying to influence the drug strategy, the Dame Carol Black review, and the spending review.
‘The drug strategy is still not published and we’re concerned it might edge away from 2010 strategy – we won’t know until it’s published,’ he said. ‘There are people in government that believe in abstinence only – and that methadone is the spawn of the devil.
‘Reductions in public health grants mean it will be challenging,’ he added. ‘But there’s widespread acknowledgement in government that if they want the benefits that accrue from drug treatment in tackling crime, they need to invest.’
The group needed to ‘keep up pressure’ and also engage in other conversations, such as with Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the NHS, he said, and to pay as much attention to alcohol as drugs.
Hayes emphasised that the group was ‘not pretending to represent service users, but needs to be informed by them and have the service users’ take in a meaningful and responsive way.’
‘We cannot do everything and we don’t want to spend time reading perfectly crafted response documents,’ said Hayes. ‘It’s the two-minute conversation on the stairwell that makes a difference. We need to be able to grandstand – but we also need to be able to have a quiet word.
‘In the end we will be judged by: is the world a better place for Service Users? Is the taxpayer getting better value for money? Is there still a drug treatment sector – and are we all willing to work in it?’