Written evidence submitted by Voluntary
Centre Services North Kesteven (BS 74)|
Voluntary Centre Services North Kesteven is a branch
of Urban Challenge Ltd, a charitable company that runs local voluntary
and community sector business development services in Lincolnshire.
This response is based on our experience of supporting
local grassroots community organisations and enabling a diverse
range of people to overcome personal barriers and get involved
Society should be a celebration and recognition of voluntary and
community activity, in order to inspire others.
perceptions of "Big Society" are largely negative amongst
the people who ought to form its very core.
is a conflict between the desire for greater local community delivery,
and the actual support required to enable this to happen (which
is under threat due to cuts).
(time and money) is based on goodwill, which has to be earned.
Extreme cuts in public expenditure are unlikely to result in much
goodwill to support Government schemes.
and community sector organisations are businesses too - and have
the same costs as any other businesses.
are not "free" labour, and they work by choice not contract.
Successful volunteer involvement on a large scale needs high level
people management skills.
1. A definition of what the "Big Society"
is or should be
1.1 What Big Society should be:
Recognition and celebration of all that people already give to
society, and the support services that enable and facilitate this
activity. Recognition of the contribution currently made would
be motivational, empowering and inspiring, and would lead to greater
involvement and participation.
1.2 As all good Volunteer Centres and volunteers'
managers already know, the first rule of successful and effective
volunteer involvement is to inspire and motivate. So if the Government
genuinely wants Big Society to work it should listen to those
of us who already have years of experience of involvement in (and
successful management of) unpaid community work.
1.3 What Big Society is at the moment:
Empty rhetoric, which has so far been unsuccessful for the following
misguided desire for "new" initiatives and systems is,
by implication, a failure to value the significant contribution
that millions of people already make to society (all of which
is actually in line with the Government's stated aims for communities
to do things for themselves), but the only message that these
people are receiving is that what they do is not recognised or
valued by those in power. Which actually makes them less inclined
to help, not more.
are aware that what the Government is doing is repackaging and
rebranding - and the natural assumption which follows is that
Government will also be aiming to take credit for the successes.
Big Society is therefore perceived as little more than a marketing
exercise. Anecdotal evidence within the community in which we
work suggests that many people are rather tired of this "spin
and no substance" approach.
1.4 The likely consequence of the above is reduced
motivation, less goodwill, more "initiative fatigue",
people feeling taken for granted, risk of loss of support
all amongst the very people who would naturally form the core
of a genuinely "Big Society".
2. The impact and consequences of reductions
in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver
its vision for the Big Society
2.1 A few local examples of people affected by
reductions in public expenditure, which begin to demonstrate that
not only is there an impact on service users who lose support
that would have enabled them to take a more active positive part
in society, but also an impact in terms of fewer high quality
opportunities for people to give their time as volunteers:
of SOVA, a local charity that worked with young offenders and
young people at risk of offending. Result: loss of mentoring support
for vulnerable young people who need one-to-one support to help
break negative patterns of behaviour, and loss of opportunities
for people to volunteer as mentors.
of CALL Advocacy, a local charity that aimed to empower vulnerable
people. Result: loss of support that enables vulnerable people
to make changes to society/community that would enable them to
get the most out of life, and loss of opportunities for people
to volunteer as advocates.
of Lincoln Mind, a branch of a national charity that provided
a safe environment for peer support and activities for people
experiencing mental health problems. Result: loss of safe, informal
support and activities that aid recovery and rehabilitation, and
loss of opportunities for people to volunteer in a variety of
2.2 Reductions in funding to local organisations
that already facilitate "Big Society" in action (eg
councils for voluntary service, volunteer centres, rural community
councils). Services currently supported, that face an uncertain
future beyond April 2011:
development, leadership and management support for small groups,
unincorporated associations, clubs, societies, emerging charities
and social enterprises.
development within voluntary/community organisations and other
of collaborative and partnership working at a local community
and district level.
opportunity development, promotion and brokerage. Provision of
advice and guidance enabling local people to give time to organisations
that match their passions, skills and aspirations.
2.3 Not only do these services directly support
local communities who want to do it for themselves, they enable
a diverse range of people from all walks of life to make an active
contribution to society and support local civil society organisations
to set up, generate income and improve quality of services.
2.4 It would be a great waste of public money
to lose this, only to realise in a year's time that it would be
a great idea to have these sort of services and have to set up
from scratch. Surely it would be better to invest a little in
improving the existing infrastructure, and enable people who already
have the experience and the expertise to do more, better.
2.5 All these examples are not just about loss
of services, expertise and the impact on the people who use the
services. It's also leading to a loss of goodwilland
goodwill is fundamental to achieving Big Society aims. The loss
of goodwill is not only amongst service users and volunteers,
but also amongst staff who find themselves made redundant. What
would motivate someone to take part in the Government's "Big
Society", when their perception is that it's the Government
that has cut their jobs?
2.6 An example to illustrate this: Lincolnshire
County Council staff whose jobs are under threat have already
expressed a negative view of volunteers and volunteering in a
widely circulated petition trying to save their jobs.
3. The role of and capacity for the voluntary
and community sector to deliver local public services including
the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour
to subsidise costs
3.1 Role and capacity of voluntary and community
sector to deliver public services: The voluntary and community
sector is much more than just those organisations that have had,
or could have, a share of the public purse. A large number of
the local charities and civil society organisations we support
are unincorporated and/or:
no interest in delivering public services. They were set up to
fulfil needs that are not met by the public or private sectors
and aim to continue to do so without risk of "mission drift",
extra paperwork etc.
not in a position to research/bid for/take on the large contracts
that commissioners prefer.
too small to even consider sub-contracting (many have no paid
staff or premises), even if their services complement the aims
of the tender.
3.2 Although these organisations are also less
likely to be directly affected by cuts in public spending,
the support services they use are affected. For example, we have
until recently been able to provide training courses funded by
public money and free at the point of access for voluntary/community
sector organisations. However this service cannot continue unless
further funding can be found to subsidise the costs. Small grassroots
community organisations do not have the resources to pay private
sector market rates for training and similar services.
3.3 Using charitable income to subsidise costs
of public services: It is unrealistic to expect any business (charitable
or otherwise) to deliver public services on anything other than
a "full cost recovery" basis. It makes no business sense
for an organisation to take on a contract that is financially
unsustainable, or means that they operate at a loss on a long
3.4 Charitable income is restricted by law, it
has to be spent in accordance with the charity's objects, and
the trustees are responsible for ensuring this. It is not up to
commissioners of public services to make decisions or requirements
about what charitable income should be spent on.
3.5 Using volunteer labour to subsidise costs
of public services: Volunteers are not free. They require the
same investment in terms of recruitment, management time, support,
training and expenses as any other member of the workforce, particularly
if the service they provide is part of a publicly funded contract.
The only thing that is different is the absence of salary costs.
3.6 In addition volunteers are under no contractual
obligation, they work by choice. So anyone commissioning public
services and expecting volunteers to be involved in the delivery
needs to appreciate and accept the risks associated with that.
For many critical public services it would be inappropriate to
rely on volunteers for delivery. But the involvement of volunteers
can actually add significant value to a core service, where the
dynamics of volunteering are properly understood and utilised
in a positive way - to add value, rather than save money.
3.7 The phrase "use volunteer labour" suggests
a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a volunteer
and the cause they volunteer for.
4. Possible problems and challenges from increased
commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and
community sector as envisaged by the Government
4.1 The biggest challenge to overcome seems to
be the expectation that the voluntary and community sector can
(and should) deliver public services "on the cheap".
In fact they have the same costs as any other supplier, including
the need to make a surplus to invest in the survival of the business.
It is short-sighted to think that the normal rules of business
somehow don't apply to the voluntary and community sector.
5. The right to form employee-owned public
service co-operatives including the resources available to co-operatives,
proposed powers, and rules governing their operation
5.1 People setting up new local organisations
like co-operatives need support and skills development. But cuts
to services mean that the current local expertise, governance/leadership
support and training providers who have experience of community
sector models of business is under threat, and likely to be absent
in many areas of the country by April, and certainly by the end
of this year unless something is done to sustain it.
5.2 How can these small fledgling co-operatives
compete for contracts? Especially when commissioners are wanting
large, consistent providers of "one size fits all" services,
because that's what they see as "efficiency".
6. Governance and accountability issues arising
out of different organisational forms of social enterprises and
co-operatives; and the participation of voluntary sector and community
groups in greater public service provision
6.1 The blurring of the lines between types of
companies could lead to:
of tax breaks, discounted rates and other preferential help designed
to support and enable the charity sector to direct its resources
for the benefit of society.
of the above benefits for some organisations in a backlash attempt
to try to prevent abuses.
6.2 There will need to be clear lines drawn to
ensure transparency/accountability for any organisation that claims
to have some sort of "community benefit", not least
so that funders, donors and volunteers can be confident that their
contribution is making the difference they expect and their time/money
is worth giving.
6.3 Consideration will need to be given to how
this is achieved, to maintain public confidence in social and
community sector organisations, whilst at the same time keeping
monitoring and bureaucratic burdens to a minimum.
7. The implications for central government
and for the civil service of policies which require them to promote
and to enable, rather than to manage and to direct, public services
8. The place of local authorities in the transfer
of power from whitehall to communities and the role democratically
elected local councillors should play
8.1 Local councillors need to be more accountable
to the public and the communities they serveand not just
at election time. Councillors' approach to grassroots activity
varies widely, and is not always consistent with the "Big
Society" ethos designed to empower communities to take action
9. Potential conflicts with other aspects
of public service delivery, such as individual focus of personalised
public services or universal provision and uniform standards of
public services (ie avoiding postcode lotteries)
9.1 "Postcode lotteries" and patchy/inconsistent
delivery of services is inevitable if local public services are
opened to contract, but is it desirable? Contrary to the popular
belief amongst politicians (of all persuasions) that "what
people want is choice"they don't. What people want
is confidence in their nearest school/hospital/social care provider.
Most people would prefer not to have to do research, make difficult
choices or have to fight to get the best service at critical times
in their lives.
9.2 To avoid patchy/inconsistent delivery commissioners
may choose to only award big contracts, in which case the local
employee-owned or voluntary sector organisations will struggle
to compete in any case.
9.3 Personalised budgets bring another set of
problemsorganisations providing services that budget holders
might choose to "buy" need some upfront capital to start/operate
with in the first place. Are holders of personal budgets prepared
to use their budgets to pay for services which they have previously
been able to access for free because they were publicly funded?
9.4 Just because something is not economically
viable in a free market economy does not mean it has no value.
In fact, the opposite is truein a truly civilised society
the things that have most value to people are non-material things.
Experiences are what enrich us and our quality of lifethe
child who discovers the natural world by watching a beetle through
a lens at a volunteer-run wildlife club; the family whose weekly
visits to the local library's storytime are a brief respite from
everyday real life pressures etc. These are the things that "Big
Society" should be about, yet they are the very experiences
that are under threat right now.