Monday 14 March 2011

Cuts are bad for us!

As we get nearer to the new financial year, yet more evidence is coming in of the effect of cuts on our beneficiaries and vital services we provide. The services for children and young people are particularly at risk. There have been massive cutbacks for youth services. Whilst we don't see the immediate effect of these cuts, we will.

The last few weeks have seen the publication of two important pieces of research from ACEVO members, 4Children and the Daycare Trust, both of which suggested that significant numbers of Sure Start centres risk closure in the next twelve months. A survey of managers based in Centres across England showed that 250 are expected to close in the next financial year, 2,000 will be providing a reduced service and 3,100will have a decreased budget. These are pretty stark figures given the overwhelming evidence showing the hugely positive impact these Centres can have on improving the life chances of children and families across the country.

I fear this will become another example of the growing gap between the rhetoric from government, in this case through the endorsement of reports by both Graham Allen and Frank Field, and the reality of delivering services on the ground. For many years, the third sector has been at the forefront of advocating for investment in high quality early years services which reach out to the most vulnerable families, whilst also acting as hubs for the whole community. The Social Investment Business has made some top quality and important investments in this area.

Many of the most innovative services that have sought to engage with the hardest to reach or have focussed on making the links between complex mental health conditions and parenting skills have sprung from our sector organisations.

For example, in their Children’s Centres, Action for Children have established household budgeting sessions, social English Groups and Stay and Play sessions in which parents who are engaged in substance misuse can receive treatment while their children are cared for in a safe, nurturing environment. Taking a holistic approach to supporting families who are impacted by a number of issues that range across health, social care, education and financial and social exclusion is by far the most cost effective way of addressing some of the most endemic problems facing local communities. Indeed, research from the New Economics Foundation showed that for every £1 invested in the services delivered by Centres run by Action for Children, the social return on investment was £4.60.

And for the scale deniers amongst the Commons backbenchers; those who dare to criticise great charities like Action for Children because they have the temerity to bid for contracts to run these services and so have the majority of their funding from government, let's remember where innovation comes from!

ACEVO has established an Early Years Taskforce, chaired by Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, which will be working to articulate a new vision for Early Years services which marries up the need to provide support to develop healthy, resilient and happy children with the requirement to drive cost efficiencies across the sector.

Local government is becoming increasingly important to the third sector. ACEVO is organising a top level seminar wirth our colleagues council CEOs to discuss how we can move beyond cuts to more joint delivery.

Last week we launched the findings of research conducted with IPPR North into the relationship between the first wave of Local Enterprise Partnerships established in the North and the local voluntary sector and social enterprise.

The government has made its commitment to rebalancing the economy very clear, and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have a central role to play in this. But if they are to be successful, it is crucial that they draw fully on all resources available to them – and this means utilising the knowledge of our sector.

With more employees than the finance sector and a turnover greater than the car industry, the third sector is a significant economic force in its own right. A point which has too often been overlooked in the past. In many local authority areas third sector enterprises will be amongst the biggest employers outside the public sector. Councils which have employment and economic growth high on their agenda can therefore not afford to overlook this part of the sector’s role.

Not only does the third sector contribute significantly to the economy and economic development but they also offer added value in their unique understanding of local communities and the issues, an ability to identify policy gaps and to act as a critical friend where necessary. However our report Drawing on all resources suggests that many of these new partnerships are missing a vital trick by failing to engage effectively with the sector.

Despite the White Paper on regional growth including explicit recognition of the voluntary sector as stakeholders of the new partnerships, only half of the LEPs examined had a representative from the voluntary sector on the board, and one LEP made no mention whatsoever of the role the sector might be able to play in growing the economy.

Our report sets out recommendations to the voluntary sector, central government and the partnerships themselves on how to promote such engagement.

We are urging the government to be more explicit about the role of the voluntary sector in rebalancing the economy, to encourage the second wave of LEPs to consider the role of the sector more specifically in their proposals and to send clear messages about stakeholder engagement needing to go beyond public and private interests and to include the voluntary sector and social enterprise.

Our research focussed on existing LEPs in the North as this is the region of the country most in need of effective LEPs, due the expectation that it is here where the impact of the spending cuts will disproportionately negative.

ACEVO first wrote to Greg Clarke MP expressing our concern over the lack of involvement of the voluntary sector in the government’s plans for the new partnerships following the lack of reference to the sector in the initial letter inviting local authorities and private groups to establish LEP.

Well, its another long 9 hours on the ferry back form Tasmania so plenty of time for blogging as I sit in the sun on the top deck....

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