Lifeline Project Annual Review 08/09

Chief Executive's Report: Lifeline and our Future

Over the past two years, two major 3rd sector drug treatment providers have closed as a result of insuperable, financial difficulties: in short, they’ve gone bust. One can speculate why, one can always do that, but such speculation is never particularly helpful.


At Lifeline we are clear (only in small measure as a result of the misfortunes of others) about the crucial importance of financial stability. Not growth – growth is important for other reasons – but stability. We measure stability across the years. Our accounts published annually are an important guide to our thinking and our practice in financial matters. Our financial values, in turn, are not separated off from our other core strategic concerns, they are at the heart of our thinking about next year, the year after and further on into the future.

We are told, all of us, that next year will be a tough year, a year of constraint, cuts and savings. We are also told that come 2011, there may well be much larger cuts. In 2011, we are told, we should prepare for our public finances to “fall off a cliff”. Perhaps so. If this indeed turns out to be the case, then Lifeline and others organisations like us will be challenged financially and organisationally like never before.

Over the past 10 years, our stability has been based on knowing that the drug treatment industry, our industry, was growing, was enjoying year-on-year increases in funding and was pursuing targets which though challenging, were both comprehensible and achievable.

Organisations like Lifeline have thrived as a result of being good at the three Cs:

  • Competitive - able to deliver at a price commissioners liked
  • Compliant - with the emerging national standards
  • Competent - at all levels, not just at the front line

During this past ten years, success was by no means guaranteed, but at least the rules were clear and there to be followed by those organisations so minded. Now things are much less certain. In our industry, not just at Lifeline, we are going through a major period of questioning and re-evaluation.


Successful organisations will always excel at the three Cs, but in times of major transformation, change and uncertainty much more is required. At this time, the quality and depth of our discussions right across our field and beyond is critical.


We must open ourselves up to the most positive external influences and, for our part, we must share what we have learned. This is one of the reasons why we set up our Film Exhange on Alcohol and Drugs (FEAD) website. FEAD facilitates that discussion and debate.


Organisations in the mainstream of our industry, like Lifeline, have to respond positively to criticism and challenge. I believe we are doing that and will continue to do that. There are a number of key challenges and trends to which we must respond; trends that will help shape and define us into the future.

The Recovery movement has challenged the belief that drug use is invariably a life sentence. We are fortunate in the North West of England to have a number of glowing examples of organisations dedicated to recovery and the hope and transformation it can bring to families and communities. Lifeline has been stimulated and energised by Recovery and by its entrepreneurs, activists and followers.

The Personalisation movement is critically placed to transform many disadvantaged and marginal groups at this time. We must campaign (not a dirty word) for the rights of people whose lives have been blighted by alcohol and drugs to participate in these important moves towards self-direction and greater autonomy and control.

And then there is Localism. It is critical that we begin to develop a compelling vision of what a successful local alcohol and drug strategy will look like. All credit to the Home Office for launching the locally based System-Change pilots. All credit too, to local commissioners and local partnerships that are beginning actively to involve stakeholders in debates about how we integrate harm reduction, recovery, public safety and the reduction in reoffending. Done right this could be a pretty compelling mix that would command widespread public support in localities. Even so, it all remains to be done-- the links need to be forged, the pathways built--the vision sold.

In this coming period, providers like Lifeline have a huge responsibility to our beneficiaries and our stakeholders, to the public and to ourselves.

Nearly 40 years ago, organisation theorist Donald Schon wrote: “…established social systems absorb agents of change and de­fuse, dilute and turn to their own ends the energies originally directed towards change… When processes embodying threat cannot be repelled, ignored, contained or transformed, social systems tend to respond by change --but the least change capable of neutralising or meeting the intrusive process.”* Let this not be us. Over the past 10 years we have become strong enough and mature enough to embrace criticism and challenge and to be ready to meet the future (with all its uncertainties) head on.

Ian Wardle Lifeline CEO
*Schon, D. (1971) Beyond the stable state, New York, NY: Random House, p40