The five-minute policy manager – February 2014

Last month, the average length of time people spent reading my five minute blog post was exactly four minutes. I’m going to chalk this up as further evidence of voluntary sector efficiency.


To help you save more time, here are the latest updates from NCVO policy team for February.

Welfare is hitting the headlines

With church leaders criticising the sanctions regime and leading charities writing to the Treasury about its forthcoming cap on overall welfare spending, it’s been a busy month for welfare news. NCVO has launched our own national Call for Evidence – asking charities to tell us about their beneficiaries’ experiences and whether they’ve had to adapt their services. We’ll be collating evidence from the sector over the coming months and publish our final report in Spring 2015.

What will the Lobbying Act mean for you?

Since the Lobbying Act passed last month, the next step is for the Electoral Commission to draw up guidance. We’ve met with them and also held a joint seminar about the Lobbying Act for our members – you can find out more from Elizabeth’s blog which includes all the presentations.

Why government needs to do more on procurement and commissioning now

Giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, I argued that government could do much more to improve commissioning and that charities are often best placed to understand people’s needs and design more holistic and responsive services. The Committee seemed positive and we’re hopeful that their final recommendations will reflect these priorities. We are also meeting with Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, today to discuss procurement reforms – ahead of a formal consultation due out from Cabinet Office next month.

Warming up for Budget 2014

Each year, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies pre-empts the Budget with its own analysis of the key issues and choices facing the government. NCVO’s Andrew was blogging at the launch of the IFS Green Budget and says that the key point was that public spending cuts are only half way through, with the Chancellor planning deeper cuts to departmental budgets the other side of the 2015 general election.

Meanwhile, NCVO has written to the Treasury with other sector partners in advance of the Budget, arguing for more support for small charities. On Budget day itself – 19 March – you can follow all our live analysis on Twitter at #volsecbudget

Community Interest Company rules are due to change

The CIC regulator is minded to simplify the dividend and interest caps that apply to CICs. We’re holding a briefing session with the regulator on 4 March to help CICs understand these proposed changes. If you’re not able to make it, email who will be glad to update members after the event.

A very useful tool if you’re bidding for contracts

The Cabinet Office has published a unit costs list – helping to answer questions like, how much does an A&E visit or a homicide cost the state? For organisations that bid for public contracts, having unit cost info at your fingertips will be really helpful – particularly if your organisation can articulate the savings it generates for the public purse. The spreadsheet is easy to download in Excel – do take a look.

Big Lottery Fund is launching its strategic review

BLF will shortly be consulting the sector on its new strategic framework, which will run from 2015-2021. I’ll be attending a roundtable this week with their Chief Executive, so let me know any thoughts you have on what BLF does well, what it could do better in future and what its priorities should be. You can email me at

>> UPDATE 26.2.14: BLF consultation now live: << 

IPPR on the future of public services

Looking further ahead towards the election, the IPPR published its Relational State report earlier this month. The authors argue that the state is increasingly expected to address complex problems – from  chronic ill health to long term unemployment – which will require fundamental changes to the current bureaucratic and market-based systems. They argue for greater decentralisation, pooling of budgets and co-design with citizens.

Recommended reading

The new IPPR report reminded me in parts of a six-year-old book that I’ve just read – John Seddon’s Systems Thinking in the Public Sector (2008). Seddon’s critique of life in the public sector has depressing moments: targets measuring the wrong things, referrals processes meaning that complex cases take longest to reach resolution, and IT that says no. But he balances this critique with the case for a fresh, systems-based approach: follow the flow of work,  find out about the user experience, and invest in frontline staff rather than back office systems. Six years on and it still makes for highly relevant reading.

Un-recommended reading

Finally, for anyone who caught the IEA’s latest Sock Doctrine report which recommends slashing grants and gagging charities which deliver public contracts. They sent us a copy, so NCVO has written an open letter in response.


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Charlotte Ravenscroft was NCVO’s head of policy and public services. Charlotte’s wrote about funding, public service delivery, and strengthening the evidence base for voluntary action. She has also worked at The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Education.

11 Responses to The five-minute policy manager – February 2014

  1. Is there a toolkit or similar for costings for Scotland? Fantastic help in being able to show the real savings our service makes in providing independent housing options advice to enable someone to find a housing solution (often instead of going into a health care setting).
    Jackie Morrison, Co-ordinator at Disabled Persons Housing Service (Fife)

    • Charlotte Ravenscroft says:

      Thanks for your reply. I’ll check with SCVO whether the Scottish Government produces similar costings or could be encouraged to if it would be of use to the sector.
      Best wishes

  2. Georgina Brooke-Holmes says:

    Thanks for these updates, Charlotte. As an academic researching in the voluntary sector, it’s easy to get stuck into what I’m doing and miss out on ‘contemporary’ issues when they happen, so this ‘five minute’ catch up is invaluable to me. Keep up the good work!
    Best wishes.

  3. sue Ashmore says:

    I met with a funder from the Lottery the other day who pointed out that many applications are rejected because they are not filled in correctly. Somewhat sadly to my view, he said he received many applications which were from obviously good people wanting to do good things in their community. When this happens he has to reject but does try to signpost the applicant to a local community council. I don’t want to share its name as I was until recently its Chair. This does mean I know the community council has no money to help even worthy people fill in the forms, so it costs the community council staff time to fill in the relevant forms and talk with the applicants. I asked what would happen if the community council disappears through lack of cash as there is little support for infra structure organisations. I would like to know who will help the applicants, but more strategically why are the forms issued by the Lottery and similar funders so impenetrable. They have it appears generated a parallel industry which seems I gather to most a parallel universe. Let’s get back to basics and produce simple forms which applicants can understand. I think if we go back to the start of the Lottery itself, most purchasers believe their money is going to a good cause-not to a private company to fill in the application forms, nor even to a charitable company struggling to assist. When you meet with the Lottery, please get them to sort their forms out!

    • Charlotte Ravenscroft says:


      Many thanks for your reply. I often hear feedback from our members that funding application forms need to be simpler/shorter, application deadlines should be longer, and decision-making by funders should be faster. I’ll be glad to raise these points and the issue of support from infrastructure organisations with BLF when I meet them.

      Best wishes

  4. Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for this – a very useful update.

    The Cabinet Office unit costs list could be particularly useful for our Value the VCS campaign, which argues that VCS services often prevent needs worsening and thereby save higher costs to the public sector later down the line.


  5. Charlotte Ravenscroft says:

    Phil & Georgina – Thanks for feedback, and definitely agree on the unit costs piece.

  6. Kevin Curley says:

    This is a really useful bulletin, Charlotte. Thanks.

    Your meeting at BIG. Seems that with Dawn in the lead the principle of demand led grant funding is safe. But she faces opposition internally by those with enthusiasm for thematic funding and for social finance. So if you can tell her how vital Awards for All and Reaching Communities are for the work of the local VCS that would be really helpful. The more demand led funding BIG makes available the better for local charities and community groups.

  7. Stephen Keane says:

    I have run an alcohol support project for 2 years and we have received some lottery funding, and a couple of other small grants. The one thing I find really lacking is support from the N.H.S., commissioned treatment service and local authorities. I have 25 people I am helping to overcome their issues with alcohol, mainly women. I am a volunteer and give my time freely and willingly. It would be better if I could have someone to support me. Is there any facility or procedures in place for this to happen?

  8. Karen Morton says:

    Thanks Charlotte – a very digestible summary and quick read. Didn’t know about the unit cost toolkit, and have passed the link on to a couple of charities who need to make the case for the preventative value of their services.
    Best wishes Karen