Brescia – Conclusions
The quite different cases of social innovation presented here suggest some conclusions in relation to financing, duration of projects/programmes and networking.
The scarcity of resources, especially in these years of crisis, is a recurrent element in our cases. Need (and also applications) for income support, employment insertion, housing inclusion and other kinds of help have enormously increased, in the face of scanter, and surely not enough, dedicated resources. Resources for social policies have been severely cut at the central level, and transfers to local levels have been drastically reduced as well. Moreover, Italian municipalities are heavily constrained by the inner stability pact that – in order to respect European fiscal parameters – impedes their spending over certain thresholds, even if they do have money. As a consequence, many programmes and projects, both directly managed by public services and outsourced to non-public stakeholders have been reduced, and agreements with third sector ones have been downsized, and/or the renewal of their financing has been delayed (as in the case of the 0-3 centre, see section 2.2), or fixed-term projects have not been prolonged or renewed (as it was the case of the Voucher investing in expertise, see section 2.1).
Some interviewees underline how, in some specific cases, the “spending review” has lead to useful and positive reorganisational processes, without necessarily being detrimental to the contents and quality of the service.10 These changes may raise protestations, until beneficiaries verify they have not lost quality or quantity of intervention.
Nevertheless, such positive examples should not shadow the fact that there is a clear need for continuity and stability (and even increases) of financing for new and for consolidated services that, even when provided by non-public stakeholders, do intercept cases in need. If funds are not adequate for the objective, the impact of the measures can be really marginal, even if their content is innovative in their context. Furthermore, they risk not even representing an opportunity for institutional learning for the stakeholders involved, as the example of the small municipalities in the province of Brescia, having to mobilise in order to manage only one single voucher for labour market (re)insertion, shows (see section 2.1). Also, the capacity to use windows of opportunity, which becomes more and more important in a context of limited resources, needs time to be developed by stakeholders. Moreover, it should be implemented without losing a long-term and context-based perspective.
Some specific considerations are worth drawing on the cases on housing inclusion, which we selected as paradigmatic of this “new” issue in the Italian context. Social housing initiatives are expanding, but remain very small regarding their capacity to offer dwellings at a modest rent compared to growing housing needs. Social housing projects are sometimes intended as substitutes for public action and not as complementary to it, which poses problematic issues. Moreover, very often local public stakeholders (as municipalities) use social housing projects as “flagships projects” to show that “something is going on” or better “we are doing things” but then, after an initial engagement, they fail in supporting these projects with other means (for example, filling the gaps and providing a fast track to access public resources in case of individual drop-outs in the social housing projects).
Social housing projects are quite vulnerable from the economic financial point of view. They are exposed to a variety of oscillations in housing and land markets, in the political context, in the mix of promoters’ activities. Normally, social housing projects can be feasible if they can count on favourable conditions, be they in terms of land use or concession, public or generous private funding (that do not have to be paid back). Moreover, they have to be mixed with “pro-market” or “in the market” initiatives which provide the resources to finance social housing activities. If at least one of these two conditions is not in place, projects do not even start.
Social housing projects fostered by private stakeholders normally work for the “grey” part of the market, for those who are not poor enough to be eligible for the public housing stock (which, anyway, would not automatically imply to access it, as it is very scarce, see Costa and Sabatinelli 2011; 2012a and 2012b) and are not wealthy enough to stand in the market. It is very rarely that private stakeholders work for the poorer because they would be obliged to apply very low rents that would not remunerate their investments. The only channel through which it is possible to develop social housing for the most needy is very conspicuous public funding for its construction and management, which is quite rare in the actual context. Operating for the grey part of the market can be a good solution for operators (who are experiencing the economic crisis in the normal market) because they can intercept some public financing and can, at the same time, cope with the housing needs of specific groups of the population (such as members of housing cooperatives, people signalled by social services, etc.), but in any case, they are not able to respond to housing hardship situations.
As a way of conclusion, and given this problematic scenario, it is worth stating that innovation is happening in Brescia. Not all analysed projects are sustainable and have the possibility of being replicated, but most of them show that stakeholders learn from experiments (in the case of social housing, they can be quite costly ones) and evolve in their capacity of structuring or focusing their activities.
The territorial networking and collaboration between public and private stakeholders has a long-lasting tradition in Brescia, but quite some margins of improvement are observed. In some cases, in fact, relations are limited to rather narrow ways of cooperation (e.g. specific agreements on financing parts of services), which are furthermore currently endangered by the shrinking of resources. The scarcity of available means would call for more synergic collaborations, overcoming the potential barriers due to the defence of the legitimate organisational identity of existing bodies.