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Helping small charities to survive? We are down to the wire

Helping small charities to survive? We are down to the wire

Many small and medium sized charities are bearing the brunt of austerity – losing grants and contracts whilst managing increasing demand for their services which are no longer funded. In any other situation you would want to throw in the towel, pack up and go home.

• Decisions to reduce public funding have meant that only those with high needs or tick a box get supported – effectively withdrawing help for swathes of people who still need it, yet are no longer eligible
• This in turn has created a fight for survival and increased competition as organisations cross borders and service boundaries to secure contracts and funding in areas where they may have little experience or knowledge
• So when services get recommissioned through a single contract only those organisations with the balance sheet, resources and approach to risk are fit to apply and/or have the security of TUPE commitments on their side… and it is not just the private sector
• Funders may be reluctant to plug the gap in statutory services, favouring new, innovative solutions to problems which they can pump-prime, yet will be difficult to sustain once their funding ends
• Which in turn creates further competition for limited resources and investment goes to those that can demonstrate ‘my impact is bigger than yours’
• Meanwhile people that need services and support go to the organisation they trust and have built a relationship with, which is no longer funded to help them. Yet it finds a way.

This story is by no means new –this has been happening for years but it is having a compounding effect, not just on the smaller and medium sized VCS but most importantly on the people that need their help. The unintended consequences of service design, commissioning and funding decisions are taking their toll and causing people such additional stress that their mental health suffers.  Navigating public services makes their challenges much greater than they needed to be.

People need to talk to someone when they are in crisis, we are human after all. An online service may help signpost you to services if you know what you are looking for, or give you an email address to get in touch with someone – that is if you have an email address, access to a device or mobile. I wrote last year about Dorothy, an elderly lady who had effectively been neglected by public services and was just about managing to live independently with the support of neighbours. It took me nearly an hour negotiating around the ‘computer says no’ culture of the bank to get them to send her a cheque book so she could get money out of her account. The reliance on ‘digital by default’ as the panacea for citizen interaction is ill-judged and poorly thought through.

Equally no amount of ‘nudge theory’ is going to help someone with a learning disability who does not understand that if they do not attend an assessment interview with DWP, they will lose their disability benefit. Even if a letter is sent to them three times – it does not help them understand it any better. They just get sanctioned, lose their benefit, go into crisis and all the arrangements that have taken years to build around their life fall apart.

And if you have multiple needs then be prepared for lots of different assessments in different places by different organisations to access services that are not joined up and compete with each other.

I accept this may not be the experience of everyone, but it is happening to a significant number of people, who, already vulnerable and at risk, are caught in the (muddled) middle.

It is in his muddled middle where the true value of small and medium sized charities comes into play, as they help people to navigate through systems and services, assessments and appointments. Often this work is unpaid, yet critical to wiring public services together, but an activity which is generally hidden and hard to measure.

The Lloyds Bank Foundation, is actively championing small and medium-sized charities and has produced sobering evidence on the impact of funding and commissioning across the country. It makes recommendations around changes to commissioning, flexibility around funding and improved grant-making practice.

However, as statutory funding reduces and competition for grants to plug gaps increases, small and medium sized charities will inevitably face difficult decisions about their future. These decisions are ultimately influenced by the extent to which public agencies, funders and other stakeholders are prepared to change, do things differently and work together. The trouble is change takes time and time is something that we have very little of.

Caroline Masundire

Rocket Science is hosting an event on 4th October with London Funders on what works in helping organisations become more resilient and help their sustainability.
Find out more here.

BIDs  . . . Boris 50, Sadiq ??

BIDs . . . Boris 50, Sadiq ??

What could Sadiq Khan do for BIDs in London?

One of Boris Johnson’s final acts as Mayor of London was to announce he had achieved his 2012 manifesto target of seeing 50 Business Improvement Districts set up in the capital. London’s reaching 50 BIDs (almost a quarter of the total in the UK) does not mean we are at saturation point. Several of the 14 boroughs which have not embraced BIDs are considering their feasibility, including Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets and Haringey.  However, the 50 BID milestone is an opportune moment to reflect on what BIDs have achieved, their strengths and weaknesses and how the new Mayor of London may decide to enable them to work more collaboratively with other partners who are interested in the place-shaping of London’s many different communities.

The first BID in London, Kingston First, was set up in 2005 and in 2015 entered its third 5-year term. Term renewal is regarded as one of the most telling indicators of a BID’s success.  All BIDs in the capital which have held renewal ballots since 2012 have seen an increase in turnout and approval rates.  And yet, whilst London’s BIDs seem here to stay, they still face considerable challenges:

  • Cuts in local government funding mean that BIDs have an opportunity to expand their responsibilities and importance, but this also threatens their raison d’etre as business-led membership organisations which, first and foremost, exist to add value to statutory provision not substitute for it;
  • Opportunities presented by the government’s commitment to devolution and localism also bring risks and uncertainties for BIDs in terms of their financial sustainability, given changes to local government finance, rate revaluation and new taxation mechanisms;
  • Expectations of BIDs to play a role as convenors and enablers of local/neighbourhood plans bring added responsibility and requirements in terms of professional skills, and expectations of greater accountability and transparency to stakeholders other than just a BID’s levy payers.

BIDs appeal to the majority of London’s councils for different reasons. Inevitably, as town halls face further funding cuts, BIDs appear attractive as a money-saving device. Within that framework, some London boroughs adopt a hands-off approach, reaching a baseline-agreement for local services, but largely recognising BIDs’ autonomy as private-sector organisations. In contrast to this laissez-faire approach, others have sought collaboration in the form of public-private partnerships. Councils that have redefined themselves as enablers, see BIDs as integral to establishing new forms of service delivery and stimulating economic growth. Boroughs which have taken this approach include the City of Westminster, now home to eight BIDs; Lambeth (6); Southwark and Camden (4 each).

Westminster, for example, recently instigated regular meetings between the Leader of the Council, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Business and Economic Development and the borough’s BID chief executives.  This is a clear signal to the BIDs that they are regarded as key to the economic development of the borough. The meetings enable the BIDs to report back on council services in their areas, but also to identify opportunities for contracting out services, including to local BID partnerships. The council has also encouraged BIDs (eg Victoria and the New West End Company) to support the work of local Neighbourhood Forums; as business led forums they can then access Community Infrastructure Levy funding to support the development of a Neighbourhood Plan.

Lambeth’s transformation into a ‘Cooperative Council’ includes identifying opportunities to break up bigger contracts as they come up for renewal; smaller contracts, delivered more locally, have provided opportunities for BIDs (eg Vauxhall BID taking over management of Vauxhall Park under a council contract). The Council’s bi-monthly BID forum also lets BIDs propose and test new ideas, including South Bank BID’s proposal for a shared apprenticeship scheme.

Systems for engagement need to be robust. There will be occasions when the BID’s and the local authority’s interests conflict. Angel BID, for example, which has a close working relationship with LB Islington, found itself leading a vociferous and ultimately successful community campaign against the council’s proposed parking policy. In Croydon, relations with the BID became temporarily strained last year when the Council’s Labour administration took umbrage at the blue uniforms, along with bowler hats, of the BID’s new Street Ambassadors. They now wear an eye-catching pink.

A recent report[1] commissioned by the GLA and the London Enterprise Panel recommended that the new Mayor should focus less on the setting up of yet more BIDs, but rather find ways to support existing BIDs as agents of local partnership. The growth in number and diversity of BIDs in the capital calls for a greater awareness of the sector’s segmentation, enabling groups of BIDs to collaborate on different issues, as well with the voluntary sub-regional arrangements of boroughs which are linked to London’s devolution proposals. In the meantime, this is happening as much by chance as by design, with an ad hoc mix of BID-financed infrastructure and area-based partnerships in place (eg the Cross River Partnership), providing support for both inter-BID collaboration, as well as cross-borough public-private initiatives.

As, in the words of one BID Chief Executive, the “new kids on the municipal block”, BIDs are quickly having to find their feet in a fast-changing environment for both local government and wider governance arrangements in London.  It will be those BIDs with an enterprising mind set, political nous, an open and supportive relationship with their local community and a propensity to collaborate which succeed.  As new BIDs continue to emerge whilst others grow in maturity, the London BID community will become increasingly diverse.  This will require a variety of different support arrangements and partnerships – both area and issue based – in order to harness BID energies and resources, enabling BIDs to maximise their contribution to tackling London’s policy priorities which is in the interests of both their members and the wider community.

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science and one of the authors of The Evolution of London’s Business Improvement Districts

[1] The Evolution of London’s Business Improvement Districts March 2016

Investing in our People – learning from the New Zealand ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’

Investing in our People – learning from the New Zealand ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’

The evolution of Work Programme (and its devolution to Scottish Government), reducing public budgets, and the increasing welfare element in City Deals provide an opportunity to think radically about the way that we view welfare to work support in the UK. Our conversations with policy makers and providers about this opportunity has revealed a growing interest in the New Zealand ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’.

I arrived at the New Zealand Treasury around the same time the challenge to overhaul the way New Zealand thought about welfare to work support was set by the Minister of Finance. ‘I want to invest in people the same way I invest in capital assets – upfront with benefits flowing later’ appeared to be the mantra from the Cabinet table’s second in command. Nearly five years later, and after much work by Ministers and officials, New Zealand has its ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’ up and running.

…‘I want to invest in people the same way I invest in capital assets – upfront with benefits flowing later’…

The core principle underpinning the ‘Investment Approach’ is that the Government should invest now, to save later. The future cost to the Government of different welfare recipients in expected benefits and other support is estimated to create a ‘life time liability’ value. Any investment now in the individual that reduces their future liability by more than the estimate is encouraged. Here in Scotland, the ‘Investment Approach’ is consistent with the objectives of the Scottish Government Prevention Agenda.

…the ‘Investment Approach’ is consistent with the objectives of the Scottish Government Prevention Agenda…

Rocket Science spent most of 2015 working with the Dundee Local Employability Partnership in order to identify ways to increase the use of preventation in their employability services to reduce the risk of long term unemployment. To see more about our work in Dundee click here.

In the context of static or decreasing public budgets, the ‘Investment Approach’ is also used to focus and prioritise resources within the welfare budget. Those that have the highest expected future liability receive the most support, as this is where the largest future savings from intervening early are available. Those on the New Zealand equivalent of the JSA represent about 5% of the future cost to the Government, but in the past, received most of the support to help them move into work. New Zealand’s analysis confirms something that definitely rings true here in the UK:  that the real gains are to be made by investing in ESA recipients.

… the real gains are to be made by investing in ESA recipients…

The ‘Investment Approach’ is a powerful prevention communication tool and has been incredibly useful in creating a common language and objective for the New Zealand Welfare to Work agenda. With Work Programme Two and more City Deals on the horizon, the UK has a real opportunity to reconceptualise how Welfare to Work support is designed and targeted. The devolution from Westminster to Scotland for designing and delivering employability services that will succeed the current Work Programme and Work Choice support, provides the Scottish Government an opportunity to start the process of developing a distinctly Scottish Apporach to employability support. You can read more on our analysis of the public consultation responses commissioned by Scottish Government here.

New Zealand’s ‘Investment Approach’ and Rocket Science’s understanding of the approach can provide robust insights into how to better invest in our people.  Please get in touch if you want to know more!

By Clare Hammond

Clare is a Senior Consultant at Rocket Science. With a background in economics and public policy, Clare came to us from the New Zealand Treasury where she had exposure to the development and implementation of the ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’ which was spearheaded by a joint working group from the Treasury and the Ministry for Social Development. 

School Ties – enhancing pupils’ employability by working with small businesses

School Ties – enhancing pupils’ employability by working with small businesses

Small businesses are vital partners for schools in helping young people make a successful transition to work.  This is the key conclusion of our new report for the FSB in Scotland, ‘School Ties’, which presents our research into the scale and significance of small business engagement with schools and how to transform its reach and impact.  Although our work was built on interviews across Scotland the conclusions reflect other research across the UK.  Our main findings are:

  • Business engagement with schools – done well – can transform young people’s futures and earnings.  For example, every meaningful engagement with an employer can increase a young person’s subsequent earnings by 4.5% and those who have encountered 4 or more employers while at school are up to 20% less likely to become NEETs
  • It is really important to help small businesses (employing fewer than 50 people) engage with schools.  Most businesses are small businesses (84%-87% in urban Scotland and 93-96% in rural Scotland)) and provide a high proportion of jobs (24% – 36% in urban areas in Scotland – and 60-72% in rural Scotland).  Without engagement with small businesses pupils will be missing out on understanding a key part of the local economy and a significant source of great opportunities.
  • Most small businesses are not involved with schools – mainly because both schools and small businesses find engagement difficult.  It can take schools as much time and effort to set up a relationship with a small employer who may have an occasional opportunity as with a large employer who may have a number of regular opportunities.  It requires sustained effort and energy, with a key role for Head Teachers in creating a profile for their school in local small business networks and organisations.
  • But small businesses are willing partners – engagement needs to be made easy, and many just need to be asked.  Those that are involved cite altruistic reasons for their involvement – small businesses see themselves as part of the local community with a role to play in supporting a range of community issues of which young people’s employability is one.  However, most say that they gain business benefit from engagement – many citing reputational benefits as well as the value of the contribution made by pupils.
  • Schools in the most deprived areas have hinterlands with relatively low levels of small business activity.  They therefore need to spread their net wider to get the range of opportunities they need – and this suggests a collaborative approach with neighbouring schools.
  • In rural areas – where most business are small businesses – it is particularly important for schools to develop a wide range of small business relationships rather than focus on a-typical larger businesses.
  • Small businesses which are involved with schools contribute in a wide range of ways.  It is important that businesses are helped to understand this range of opportunities and match their ability to contribute to the needs of schools and pupils.
  • Teachers can benefit from engagement with pupils as much as pupils – bringing back new insights into how they can use to make their lessons more relevant to the world of work and enhancing their ability to provide useful insights into current and emerging opportunities in local businesses.
  • …and parents – as business owners, employers, and employees – can provide an important way of making connections between schools and businesses.

On the basis of these findings we have developed a number of recommendations about how to transform the scale and reach of school engagement with small businesses and so enhance the opportunities for pupils to match their aptitudes, aspirations and interests with the world of work.  This report is complemented by a recent assignment to review the work experience approach of a large local authority and make recommendations about how this can be placed in a much wider approach to employer engagement.

Download the full report here

…and our previous report on realising the employment potential of micro-businesses here

By Richard Scothorne

If you want to discuss our work in this area please contact Richard Scothorne at [email protected] or 07774 141 610.

 

The Scottish Approach to employability support – our analysis of the Scottish Government public consultation

The Scottish Approach to employability support – our analysis of the Scottish Government public consultation

The Scottish Government has received devolved responsibility from Westminster for designing and delivering employability services that will succeed the current Work Programme and Work Choice support. This presents an opportunity to design a distinctly Scottish Approach to employability support. As part of this, the Scottish Government ran a public consultation in 2015 to seek public views on what a ‘Scottish Approach’ should look like and how the replacement support should fit into this. Rocket Science was commissioned to analyse the responses.

215 individuals, service providers, and advocacy and support organisations responded. Following a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis we identified six key messages running through the consultation responses:

That the Scottish Approach to employability support should:

  • Have a person centred, flexible and tailored approach that considers all elements of an individual’s life that affects their employability
  • Be designed and delivered by a partnership of organisation such as central and local government, third sector, and educators
  • Focus on ‘real jobs’ through engaging with employers and creating high quality labour market intelligence, so job seekers are prepared for and directed towards jobs that exist.

That any devolved replacement programme should:

  • Be designed nationally but adapted to the local context and delivered locally
  • Involve contracts that use a combination of payment by job outcome, progression towards work, attachment fees, and should incorporate client feedback as a metric for payment
  • Target those with the highest needs, and focus a separate programme on this group to avoid them getting lost in the crowd.

The full analysis report can be found at:

https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/labour-market-and-workplace-policy/employability-support/results/creating-a-fairer-scotland—employability-support—analysis-of-responses.pdf

By Clare Hammond

Clare is a Senior Consultant at Rocket Science. With a background in economics and public policy, Clare came to us from the New Zealand Treasury where she had exposure to the development and implementation of the ‘Investment Approach to Welfare’ which was spearheaded by a joint working group from the Treasury and the Ministry for Social Development.

For more information contact Clare on 0131 226 4949

What about Dorothy? How our services fail the vulnerable

What about Dorothy? How our services fail the vulnerable

Dorothy is 94, living alone, her husband died 25 years ago and with no children or family living near she relies on a telecare kit, an hour of care a day and more recently a meals on wheels service which brings her a meal to microwave each day. Her next door neighbour gets her some shopping each week and she relies on the good will of the other residents in the block to help her out.

Last Tuesday she had another fall, trying to get up from her chair to get to her bedroom.  She had called an ambulance, but it had not arrived, so she rang my partner, who lives nearby to come and help her.  Within ten minutes he had arrived but could not get in as the carer who attended that day did not replace the key in the secure box.  So she had to shuffle her way on her knees to the door to open it for him.  The ambulance men arrived a little later but decided she was well enough to remain at home. This is not the first time she has fallen.

Earlier in the summer we received an anxious call from her, she had arrived back from hospital the previous day after a fall earlier in the week (something down to blood pressure and medication).  She had spent the last twenty four hours without electricity or heating, her services had been turned off whilst she was away but no one had checked to turn them back on when she was sent home.  She had not eaten anything as the food in the fridge had gone off and she could not make herself a hot drink.  My partner went to help her, turned the utilities back on and brought her some provisions to help see her through.  She decided to pay for meals on wheels so she would not be put in that situation again.

When we saw her a couple of days later she said she was ok, but really missed cooking for herself and really wanted to eat some pasta.  So every time we make a bolognese we do a portion for her and buy her some ready meals when we go shopping if we remember.

We popped round to see her on Saturday to see how she was doing and if she needed anything.   She was still aching from her fall but was getting worried about her money situation.   She uses cheques to pay for bills and to get money out (through another neighbour who does her shopping).  But she had only one cheque left, our first reaction was that perhaps her replacement book had been stolen, banks usually send these out automatically.  We rang the bank for her and after ten minutes of the usual automated system we got through to a person.  I explained the difficulty of the situation, Dorothy has hearing problems and cannot see very well.  But we had to go through security questions and explain to Dorothy that she needed to respond.  Some half an hour later the adviser spoke to us and explained that the bank does not send out chequebooks, this policy stopped some time ago and they have to be requested by phone or in person at the bank. We explained about Dorothy’s situation but there is nothing they could do, other than rely on someone to order a book with her next time.

Reflecting on Dorothy’s situation made me realise how difficult her life is made.  She wants to remain independent in her flat, something all public service organisations want as it is much cheaper than providing full time care in a home.  Her carers are all different, so she does not get the chance to form a relationship or bond with them, sometimes she cannot tell who is a carer as they change so often.  Her reliance on her neighbours means that she can live her life, but these neighbours are also getting older and more frail and likely to need support too in the future.  The local area is changing, flats are being taken over by private landlords and people are coming and going, so it is much harder to know and build a relationship with a neighbour.  Her financial situation makes her vulnerable to people who may use the opportunity to take advantage of this.  There is no other support for her.

And I have to ask myself why are we not getting the basics of living right for those older and more vulnerable people in our society? 

Personally I think we (policymakers, commissioners and funders) are so caught up with chasing the next big thing in public service design, responding to cuts, reducing demand and looking to scale and replicate what works, that we are neglecting to get the basics and fundamentals right.   Impact maps, disruptive innovation, innovation in technology, social action what do all these things mean to people in situations like Dorothy?

Situations where you cannot scale and replicate support that requires such individual attention or people are living in areas where there is a clear deficit in social and community capital and little motivation or investment to help stimulate it.  Where technology serves to frustrate rather than enhance someone’s life and your ability to survive and remain independent is at the mercy of the goodwill and trustworthy nature of your neighbours or family (if you have one).

We need to reboot our thinking and actions and we need to do it quickly and when we are looking at designing an approach, fund or service then ask ourselves a fundamental question before we go ahead… what about people like Dorothy?

Till next time
Caroline Masundire

Health – a question of Sport?

Health – a question of Sport?

Give health a sporting chance

So the NHS is going to be bankrupted by an obesity epidemic, participation in physical activity despite the ‘olympic effect’  has fallen prompting a government consultation into why this is the case and sitting at your desk all day is bad for your heart. We instinctively know all of this, exercise is good, excess calories are bad, lethargy leads to illness and sugary foods lead to obesity.  The correlation between inactive and unhealthy lifestyles and costs on health services is well documented but reversing this negative impact is much harder and more complicated than we realise.

For those of you that know me, you would probably be forgiven for thinking that I am not that interested in sport per se.   Back in the early noughties and in the days of area-based funding programmes and ‘action zone-itis’ of the first Blair government, I ran an action learning and  development programme over three years for Sport Action Zones, (SAZ).  These worked in a number of areas across England to raise the participation levels of communities in sports and physical activities.  The programme had a lot of success in raising participation, not least because of the partnership approach and linking of sport to other funding pots and wider social outcomes.  The new Sports Minister,  Tracey Crouch could learn a lot from the SAZ experience, in that structures to make it happen and investment to make participation sustainable needs to be in place. But its not just about funding and infrastructure.

My experience of sport, like many others, was informed from my school days. Being a plump child and not particularly good at anything, I was often left standing in my aertex top, plimsolls and chest high PE knickers in the blistering rain, waiting to be picked reluctantly by a fit, competent team captain.

My PE teachers were not much better, their focus was on winning coveted inter-school competitions and stragglers and poor performers like myself were, at best, tolerated and at worst ignored.  My parents could not have been more disinterested in sport and did not encourage any of us to take part in activities.  So if  campaigns like This Girl Can were around in my day, I am sure this would have motivated me and many others who had little direction and role models to keep on trying.

It was based on my experiences that I was determined that my children would find an interest in some form of physical activity, to ensure that my history did not repeat itself. My daughter found kick-boxing and my son found football, despite neither of them having a good experience with sport at school.  This meant lots of trips, forgoing Saturday and Sunday mornings to ferry him around to matches and events and the cost of replacing equipment particularly football boots every few months to cope with ever expanding feet.  My kids continue in physical activity now they are older and I put this down to them having opportunities and a supportive single parent with sufficient resources to make it happen.

It should come as no surprise that my conclusions about healthy and active lifestyles are rooted in our early experience and dependent on the following conditions:

  • Parents/Guardians have to play a critical role in encouraging, supporting and motivating their children to take part in activities, regardless of their abilities
  • Parents/Guardians have to have the time and financial resources and access to transport to support this participation
  • Schools need to work with parents/guardians and recognise the value that extra-curricular activities have on a child’s development and reinforce positive messages about participation regardless of ability.

Taking this further, active participation in physical activity in adulthood comes down to having the time, resources and confidence to take part.  I discovered I was a reasonable swimmer in my thirties and really enjoyed it, swimming up to three miles a week.  But sustaining it was a problem because of working, commuting and family commitments which meant that something had to give way in my life. Now some of those responsibilities have abated I am looking to start swimming again but the cost of using a private gym where I can be guaranteed of a lane is going to set me back a pretty penny. 

But participation is also linked to facilities that fit around people’s lifestyles and culture. A small group of muslim women I work with really want to take part in women only swimming sessions, but lack of transport, cost and suitability of the facilities have so far served as barriers for taking part. They are not a big enough group to make it worthwhile for a dedicated session and will find a regular routine difficult to maintain with their caring responsibilities.  The costs of setting something up to cater specifically for these needs would be seen as disproportionate.

My point is that raising participation is not easy, when you factor in personal choice, family circumstances, resources and access.

European Sports Week starts in earnest in a couple of weeks time building european-wide momentum to drive sports participation.  And small grant programmes like Freesport we manage on behalf of the Mayor for London provide an essential lifeline to communities to take part in local activities.  But if we are to reverse the health challenges facing us through physical activity then we need a coordinated approach and one where we can make a generational difference.  Lets start with families and schools.

Caroline Masundire