Reflections on the Taskforce’s first year

I must admit to being a bit surprised when reminded that the Taskforce has now clocked up its first full year of operating. The world of July 2019 seems so far away now, like a different era. Back then there was such intense media, public, government attention to Scotland’s rising levels of drug-related deaths that it was hard to imagine anything that could overshadow it. Unfortunately, there was.

Still, aside from the very shortest of pauses at the start of lockdown, the Taskforce has managed to  function throughout the crisis, even intervening on occasion so that challenges of Covid-19 did not impact as drastically on our mission and the lives we are trying to save as it might have done. Like many of the other volunteers on the Taskforce, I have full-time work responsibilities elsewhere – in my case as CEO of Turning Point Scotland, a major social care developer and provider which itself has learned how to cope with new ways of working through the crisis restrictions.

The Coronavirus emergency is still not over, and it is perhaps still too soon to be drawing lessons from it, but some key narratives have emerged that have resonance for the Taskforce. The first is about organisations – like mine at TPS  - who have surprised themselves with their ability to adapt and innovate to changing and uncertain circumstances., with some of the best of this happening at grass-roots levels, not led from above. My take-out on this is the role of leadership here has been to empower your people, set the overall goal and trust them to get on with it rather than try to enter the detail. The second narrative is about our ability to bring about systemic change in an instant, if the will and goodwill, focus, and effective collaboration is there in place. The impossible has proved to be possible. Sometimes.

Looking back at the Taskforce inaugural year from my perspective, I can’t pretend that it’s been easy, even without Covid-19. Working in a large group with differing talents and viewpoints isn’t easy either, especially when emotions run high, as they perhaps rightly do, when we are talking about matters of life or death. Yet the expertise, focus and passion is all in place, and if we can harness the best of that, we have to hope that the seemingly impossible will be made possible, as we know it can.

Neil Richardson
Taskforce Member