The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Involve Yorkshire & Humber (BS 92)

1.  INTRODUCTION

Involve Yorkshire & Humber works across the region to represent and promote the interests of the voluntary sector. We deliver projects on workforce development, rural communities, the BME voluntary sector and conducts research about the area with a particular interest in disadvantage.

Involve Yorkshire & Humber is a membership organisation - many of our members work with voluntary and community groups.

2.  GENERAL COMMENTS

We welcome the ideas about Big Society. However, the lack of clear policy or programme detail and initiatives which appear to undermine or contradict the concept make it difficult to see any co-ordinated direction.

3.  SPECIFIC POINTS

Question 2

3.1.  Involve Yorkshire & Humber with Sheffield Hallam University, has carried out research about the impact of cuts in public expenditure in Yorkshire & the Humber.

It shows that:

3.1.1.  26,000 voluntary sector jobs are under threat because of cuts;

3.1.2.  some areas are suffering a triple whammy:

—  (i)  they are already disadvantaged and have high levels of deprivation and their voluntary sectors tend to have lower levels of volunteer and civil society activity;

—  (ii)  they are suffering deeper public spending cuts than elsewhere; and

—  (iii)  their voluntary sector has received higher levels of public investment than the national average.

These areas include Hull, Bradford North Lincolnshire and Doncaster.

3.1.3.  the result is that the voluntary sector is being cut back hard and picks up the result of public sector cuts in terms of increasing numbers of clients;

3.1.4.  the high proportion of BME communities in some of these areas means that the impact of cuts will be disproportionately adverse;

3.1.5.  60% of charities in Yorkshire and the Humber have less than a year's reserves so their capacity to survive spending cuts or re-organise is limited; and

3.1.6.  all this means that Big Society is not "big" everywhere. Agendas to promote it need to be played out very differently in different areas. (Report: A big society in Yorkshire & the Humber? CRESR Hallam University and Involve Yorkshire & Humber, February 2011, available here http://www.involveyorkshirehumber.org.uk/resources/reports/a-big-society-in-yorkshire-the-humber-/

3.2.  The speed of cuts is detrimental too. It does not allow for any considered changes within voluntary organisations and results in loss of capacity, experience and skills. In addition, the service re-design that Big Society is supposed to be about, requires collaborative work between public bodies and the sector and cannot happen in time. This is a lost opportunity.

Budget cuts could mean that service providers focus on those who already access their services, therefore excluding the most marginalised members of communities.

It is important to say that the cuts are not just local but also result from the end of Government spending programmes such as the Future Jobs Fund.

3.3.  The impact of these changes and losses in trustees of voluntary organisations is very negative. It means that their energy is turned to repeated re-organisations rather than their contribution to their community, service or cause.

3.4.  Infrastructure organisations are being badly affected by cuts. This means that the essential building blocks for effective Big Society action: engaging communities, training new charities, offering technical advice will not be available. So, the V-involved project supporting young people's volunteering has been cut, the Yorkshire & Humber Faiths Forum has lost all its staff: at a time when dialogue between faiths is vital.

3.5.  It is difficult to see how Big Society can be developed if the foundations of voluntary action are being undermined.

Question 3

3.6.  The voluntary and community sector has the capacity to deliver public services except that, as described above, the very organisations that might deliver are reducing their staffing or closing. By the time commissioning happens many organisations will have closed.

3.7.  The size of public contracts for services is in many cases too big for smaller organisations to tender. The DWP contracts or ERDF contracts have minimum bid levels which demand large organisations. Some contracts are designed for payment by results -making it impossible for smaller organisations to be involved.

3.8.  Whilst sub-contracting may be possible in some cases it often seems that the tough delivery is done by the local organisation whilst the main contractor skims off the value thus undermining local and community organisations' capacity to survive.

3.9.  All this means that the unique contribution of community-based organisations to deliver tailored services for their locality and to develop social capital is lost thus reducing the quality of services and sector engagement not enhancing it.

3.10.  It is crucial that commissioning is equitable and that there is recognition of the difference between voluntary sector organisations and private companies and that currently there is not a 'level playing field'. The process itself needs to recognise the added social value brought by voluntary and community sector organisations. Whilst some BME voluntary and community sector organisations have successfully secured contracts, for many the barriers created by commissioning and procurement processes have prevented them from effectively competing. This reduces the potential market reach and limits the positive impact for marginalised communities.

3.11.  We also find that public bodies do not understand the representative role of voluntary sector infrastructure organisations: so their contribution to service design or commissioning practice is overlooked because the assumption is made that they are only interested in delivery not in policy formulation: again a loss of important perspectives and on the ground understanding.

3.12.  It is a breech of charity law to subsidise public services from charitable funds. And by using volunteer labour the whole notion of voluntarism is undermined. In addition, volunteers come and go: they cannot be the basis for public services which require consistent provision.

Question 4

3.13.  Whilst we welcome increased commissioning of public services from the voluntary sector-without a stable funding environment it is difficult to see that services to vulnerable people can be delivered consistently.

3.14.  The voluntary and community sector can deliver in an innovative and value driven way to the most marginalised communities, seen as "hard to reach" by many service providers. The role of the sector in promoting underrepresented voices also needs support to ensure that excluded communities are included in the Big Society.

3.15.  Our experience is that there is very often poor funding practice (withdrawal of contracts at short notice, failure to stick to the Compact agreements and so on) so that the environment is not supportive of developing the market and the supply chain of new suppliers from the voluntary sector. We fear that large national service charities will be regarded as safe and financially stable by commissioners and so the innovative work of smaller organisations is overlooked and lost.

Question 8

3.16.  We support the central and democratic role of local authorities working with the voluntary sector to improve services and engagement.

March 2011



 
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Prepared 14 December 2011