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Making the new drug strategy work
What are the structures for implementing the 2021 drug strategy?

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Setting up for success

This is the fifth and final in a short series of posts looking into the detail of the new drug strategy published last month  and which I summarised here. We have already looked in some detail at the main objectives of the strategy: cutting drug-related crime; building back our treatment system; and reducing the demand for drugs. This post looks at what the strategy has to say about how these objectives will be achieved. The final chapter of the strategy is entitled “Setting up for success: partnerships and accountability”.

Dame Carol Black, whose two-part Review of Drugs underpins the new strategy, was particularly critical of the lack of a proper accountable system to drive work in the drugs strategy; her primary recommendation was that there needed to be a radical reform of leadership, funding and commissioning in the sector. The strategy promises new nationally set standards and outcomes to provide structure and oversight that will ensure consistently high-quality services, and that funding will be targeted at the objectives set out in the strategy.

The strategy promises three key actions to implement change:

  1. Providing focused investment, targeted at the places with the greatest need – this will mean that areas with high levels of drug use, drug-related deaths and crime will be prioritised for aligned additional funding across treatment, justice, employment and accommodation support.
  2. Improving partnership working, with expectations set out on the roles of different agencies.
  3. Developing a system of national and local outcomes, frameworks and accountability that will drive a consistent and clear set of expectations across the next decade, and ensure measurement of government against its promises.

Investment

The strategy makes it clear that although the strategy has a national ambition, investment will be rolled out starting with the areas of highest need (many of which are the pilot sites for Project Adder).

Improved partnership working

The new recommendations for local partnerships to drive activity around drugs are reminiscent of Drug Action Teams. Partnerships may be on a local authority or larger area but should have membership from across the health, local authority, education and criminal justice sectors and should base their activities on a joint needs assessment. The strategy promises detailed guidance early this year for partnerships to be operational by 2022/23.

Outcomes, frameworks and accountability

The government intends to publish a national outcomes framework to track the effectiveness of the strategy – you can see the draft long-term outcome measures in the image at the top of this blog post. The final outcome measures are promised for April and Kit Malthouse, the Combating Drugs Minister, has overarching accountability for delivery of the strategy and will present an annual report to Parliament to monitor progress.

There will also be new local outcomes frameworks (which will obviously need to align with the national ones). The prospect of league tables is raised: “the local outcomes framework will enable comparison with other similar areas and, in some cases, funding may be dependent on showing progress on these outcomes.”

Local areas will also be expected to report annually on their progress and next steps. These reports are expected to contain action plans, details of local funding and identification of where more support is needed from government.

Conclusion

For those of us who have lived and worked through many different drug strategies over the last decades, there is more that is familiar than new in the strategy with a renewed focus on (re-)investment and co-ordinated action at a national and local level. We must wait and see for the national and local annual reports to see how much impact the new approach has.

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