Public services news round-up: February 2016

Anti-advocacy clause

The government has announced that from 1 May 2016 they will insert a clause into grant agreements which prevents the money from being used for lobbying. NCVO believes that this anti-advocacy clause will be hugely counter-productive and have highlighted three types of grant funding that will be affected. The Minister for Civil Society has sought to clarify how the clause will work but this still leaves five major unanswered questions.

NCVO will continue to push back against the clause but we need your help. We’ve identified four ways that voluntary sector organisations and the public can make their voice heard.

The finances of smaller voluntary organisations

NCVO, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation, has published a ground breaking new analysis of financial trends for small and medium-sized charities.

For the first time, this research has uncovered the scale of ‘churn’ within the sector. Large numbers of charities are moving between revenue bands on an annual basis and the movement is greater the further down the income spectrum you go. Smaller organisations experience much greater income volatility: they are significantly more likely to experience big rises or big falls or go out of business.

From a public service perspective, the report also reveals a huge disparity in how voluntary organisations have fared in securing statutory funding. Whilst those with a turnover above £100m a year have seen government income grow significantly, all other income bands have seen cuts of up to 40%.

Change in govt and individual income for orgs of different sizes

There is a huge amount of interesting data in the report and I strongly encourage you to have a browse. My colleague Jennifer has also blogged on the key findings.

Why charities run public services

Earlier this month, in response to a column in the Daily Telegraph, Karl wrote an excellent blog post on why charities run public services. It is a great riposte to those that say that charities delivering government contracts are not real charities.

Similar arguments have also been made by those at the other end of the political spectrum. NCIA’s latest report argues that there are a wide range of responsibilities which should only be delivered by government, including arts, culture and safeguarding the capacity of civil society. While I certainly agree that some powers should be reserved for the state – for example, those related to the withdrawal of liberty – I doubt that I would enjoy state-produced Led Zeppelin as much as the original.

More seriously, the decision about whether or not to delivery statutory contracts is clearly a difficult one and trustees must ask questions about quality, risk, sustainability, mission and independence. Contracting is not right for all voluntary sector organisations, the vast majority of which receive no government funding.

While we shouldn’t assume that voluntary services are “good” by definition, in many cases, trustees will conclude that their organisations are able to provide public services which are person-centred, shaped by communities and based on individual assets, not just needs, more effectively and maybe even cheaper, than existing state provision. If that’s the case then they should be supported to do so.

Social prescribing

This month has seen the publication of an evaluation of the Rotherham social prescribing project. Social prescribing is a way of linking patients in primary care and their carers with sources of support within the community. It provides GPs with a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve health and well-being.

The scheme is managed by Voluntary Action Rotherham, involves 20 local voluntary sector organisations and all 36 GP practices in the area, and has seen over 2,000 patients referred for a social prescription. The results are very promising, with inpatient episodes, inpatients spells and A&E attendances for those aged under 80 all down by around 20%. The evaluation projects that savings of over £1m could be made after five years.

We are keen to hear from anyone involved in social prescribing schemes, as NCVO is supporting the development of the new Social Prescribing Network. Lev’s blog post explains more.

Free commissioning advice

New resources on commissioning are now available on NCVO’s support website Knowhow Nonprofit. This covers all aspects of the commissioning cycle and contracting – from deciding whether or not to bid through to writing successful pre-qualification questionnaires and tenders, and monitoring and evaluating public service delivery.

NCVO’s Annual Conference 2016: Creating the Future for Voluntary Action

Join over 500 voluntary sector leaders for a day of discussion, learning and networking at NCVO’s Annual Conference on 18 April 2016. The day will include NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington’s state of the sector address, a morning plenary with former civil service head Lord Gus O’Donnell, 1-2-1 drop in surgeries and expert-led workshops on key practical and strategic issues. One such workshop will focus how local authorities will seek to commission voluntary sector organisations over the next five years.

Public Services Conference: save the date

NCVO is running a public services conference on 26 September 2016 in London. The day will be packed full of practical advice for voluntary organisations engaged in the design and delivery of public services. Further details will be published in the coming months. In the meantime, please save the date in your diary.


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Nick was NCVO's public services manager until March 2017. He is also a trustee of the South London Relief in Sickness Fund.

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