The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Voluntary Action Broxtowe (BS 95)


Voluntary Action is a local fully accredited volunteer centre and infrastructure support organisation which has been working at local level since 1979 covering the borough of Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire The centre received 2,000 enquiries last year and interviewed over 800 volunteers. The centre has specialist projects which enable volunteers with learning difficulties, mental health needs and those whose first language ids not English to volunteer successfully in our community and we support over 250 local groups and organisations.

Definition of the Big Society

1.1  Voluntary Action Broxtowe believes that the Big Society can be defined very much in terms of the work we now do assisting and enabling local people including those from vulnerable groups to contribute to the community in which they live by volunteering.

1.2  Voluntary Action Broxtowe feels this is not a new concept but something which local volunteer centres have been doing for many years. Local services like ours should be at the very heart of the Big Society.

The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure

2.1  What is happening here in Nottinghamshire simply does not reflect what David Cameron is saying on a national level. Whilst he is promoting the idea of people on a local level playing a bigger part and having more power to decide things in their local community organisations in Nottinghamshire which already facilitate his vision are being subjected to the most savage cuts in England. It would appear that Nottinghamshire has done the very opposite of what he suggested as they have "done the easy thing and cut money to voluntary organisations working in our communities".

2.2  Nottinghamshire has always been justly proud of a vibrant voluntary sector meeting local needs at a local level, but there are now many groups who will not survive the coming year. The cuts have come with no consultation with the sector and no time to plan. Getting alternative funding in takes time and groups have not been given any time at all. Infrastructure groups like ours that provide help and support for the sector including assistance with identifying new funders and help with applications have been excluded from even applying for Grant Aid ourselves this year and we are told no funding will come direct to local centres like ours despite receiving support in the past. So at the very time when we have an increase in groups needing help and support from us our own organisation is at risk. At almost the end of our financial year there is no clear picture as to whether we will receive anything in the coming year.

2.3  We are concerned that any new money for volunteering will be distributed on a national basis excluding smaller local charities like ours and going instead to national charities who lack local knowledge and credibility, or the government will set up new and expensive structures to distribute funding which will soak up much of what might be on offer.

The role and capacity of the sector to deliver local public services and the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour to subsidise costs

3.1  To use charities and charitable money to replace statutory services goes against the very ethos of the sector. Guidelines from many of the Charitable Trusts and Foundations which support our work in the sector state quite clearly in their guidelines that funding from them cannot be used for this purpose Traditionally this money has been used to enhance services or fill gaps in services or to provide a service where there is no statutory duty to do so, but never to replace statutory funding if this was the intention money would simply not be given on that basis by a wide variety of funders who support the sector.

3.2  Voluntary Action Broxtowe is a fully accredited volunteer centre working since 1979 to high standards to promote good practice in volunteering. Part of this good practice is that volunteers should never be used to replace a paid worker—such practice goes against the most basic principles of volunteering and devalues it. Volunteering is proven to enable people to gain in confidence, new skills and experience and move on in their lives. It should never be devalued as a cheap option to replace paid staff.

3.3  Volunteering is not free Volunteers require organising, support training and paid expenses and they should be treated with the respect and given the support they deserve.

Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision by the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government

4.1  Many of the groups providing good valued services in our area are very small as until two years ago when we took on a wider role Broxtowe had no infrastructure organisation to help local groups here to develop and grow. Now just two years later this support is being put at risk.

4.2  As a result of the previous lack of support many groups here lack the knowledge skills and capacity to tender for public service provision unless they are provided with support to do so This will mean bigger organisations who can deliver on a wider geographical area will move in, attracted by the new opportunities commissioning will offer, and smaller more local services will be squeezed out and valuable well liked, well respected local services will be lost, which is the direct opposite of what the Big Society is supposed to be all about.

4.3  Even if they are able to come to some form of subcontracting with a larger outside organisation top slicing of funds by that organisation will not enable them to deliver anything of quality in the way that they do now.

The right to form employee owned public service co-operatives etc

5.1  This would enable newly formed groups to spring up which would put at risk the local organisations which are already delivering much of David Cameron's vision at the level he says he wants it delivered.

5.2  Whilst we believe strongly in partnership work and we work to encourage this approach safeguards need to be built in or valuable local well respected services could be lost in an attempt to save money Once lost it would take years of work to replace local service providers.

Governance and accountability issues rising out of different organisational forms of social enterprises and cooperatives and the provision

6.1  Consultation needs to take place with the voluntary and community sector in a meaningful way to ensure that safeguards are built in and accountability measures are practical and workable and do not become an added burden on an already overworked voluntary sector.

Implications for central government and the civil service

7.1  It is essential that the government engages with the structures which already exist within the voluntary and community sector rather than setting up new ones and that it uses organisations such as NAVCA which can gather the sectors views at the most local level via its members rather than setting up new structures which would fail to do so leaving local groups marginalized and voiceless This would also be the most cost effective way of engaging at a local level.

The place of local authorities in the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities and the role democratically elected councillors should play

8.1  We support the principal that power should be decentralized to the most local level, but feel there is a risk that local authorities could seize power for themselves and not truly support community ownership of assets and services unless safeguards are built in by the government which ensure local people are supported to make full use of their new rights.

Potential conflicts with other aspects of public service

9.1  Personalisation should result in greater choice of service for service users and in that way would be a good thing, but amongst service users here currently there is a feeling of not knowing what it is all about and being very worried they cannot cope with such a change and what will happen if they can't manage this.

9.2  For organisations here there still some lack of knowledge about personalisation and what it will mean for them or the opportunities it presents. The internal structures needed to make this work are not yet in place in many organisations and will cost money at a time when groups have been so severely cut that they are having to cut back on what they already deliver So currently due to the severity of the cuts here in Nottinghamshire there is in actual fact less of a service to buy.

9.3  How can local groups and organisations be expected to provide the additional staff time a major change like this will require with no additional funding.

9.4  The transition fund was a too tight a timescale for some groups to even realise it was available and what it could be used for, let alone get an application in on top of everything else they are coping with right now.

9.5  Many groups have never charged for services so this is a big shift for them We are actively working with groups and providing training, but are having to look at how we can limit our own services next year as we are also facing massive cuts so we are limited now in what we can do.

Thank you for this opportunity to put our views forward.

March 2011

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