Make it easier for charities and volunteers to support our public services

We think public services are better when charities and volunteers are involved – and this is a key theme of our new manifesto.

Every day, thousands of charities help shape and provide high quality public services. With their local knowledge and expertise of helping some of the most marginalised people in society, they deliver significant social value to communities up and down the country.

Likewise, volunteers help paid staff to focus more fully on their own roles and add distinct value to our public services. The scale of this contribution is significant: there are an estimated three million volunteers in health and some 500,000 in policing alone.

NCVO believe more can be done if a more enabling environment for volunteering existed and in our manifesto we make some suggestions about how this could be achieved.

Set targets for the management and development of volunteering

Good volunteer management and development is vital for encouraging diversity in volunteering, and ensuring volunteers get the best possible experience and achieve the greatest impact. Importantly, managing volunteers effectively and providing them with adequate support also helps to retain them (the importance of volunteer management was also recently stressed by the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities).

Through effective volunteer management and development the Giving Time project in Leeds supports adults who have criminal convictions to access volunteering opportunities, especially young volunteers from diverse cultural backgrounds. There are financial benefits to programmes such as this too. Giving Time has helped the National Offender Management Service to make significant savings: for every £1 invested in Giving Time, the criminal justice system saves £114.

By setting targets for the management and development of volunteering in key public services, the next government could help to increase volunteer numbers in a broader range of roles like this and other key areas, such as the NHS and social care.

Appoint senior public sector leaders as volunteering champions

Appointing senior public sector leaders as volunteering champions would complement the role of volunteer managers and help widen the involvement of volunteers in a broader range of public services.

Volunteering can do more when it has strategic leadership and buy-in from the top. Senior leadership is known to drive behavioural change by setting an example for others to follow. It makes a statement internally and externally that the organisation takes volunteering seriously and recognises the contribution it makes. Even within the NHS, separate trusts have different approaches to, and understandings of, volunteering and the impact it can deliver. Volunteering champions could help bridge this cultural divide by highlighting the value volunteers bring to public services. They could also help promote more diversity in volunteering.

The sharing of good practice would help assist both the setting of targets and the appointment of champions. For example, the Kings College Hospital volunteering programme and the Volunteering in Care Homes project (pdf, 291KB) show that involving volunteers in public services leads to positive outcomes for users. Similarly, the Cities of Service programme has shown that with the right leadership, volunteering programmes can attract a wider range of volunteers.

Volunteers already provide an amazing service to this country. With the right kind of targeted support and development, they could do even more.

Make better use of public money: encourage more grant giving

Competitive grant making often provides excellent value for money, from one-off projects to engage with beneficiaries to piloting a new idea where contract design and monitoring is deemed unnecessarily burdensome. The benefits of grant giving have been highlighted for example by the Lloyds Bank Foundation, and NHS England’s guidelines on the use of grants.

Despite this, recent years have seen a significant shift from grant funding to contracting. This has had implications for innovation and the effectiveness of public services, partly because tightly-prescribed contract specifications often focus on the process of delivery rather than the best possible outcomes for communities.

This shift has presented problems for some charities receiving public funding, particularly smaller organisations who lack the capacity to engage in complex bidding processes and deliver large scale contracts. As our Navigating Change report (pdf, 3.2MB) shows, many middle-income charities have experienced large falls in income directly as a result of the loss of government grants.

So our Manifesto asks the next government to encourage and support public bodies to provide grants for charities. This would help put the voluntary sector on a more sustainable footing and increase the quality of our public services (our manifesto also sets out proposals on how dormant assets could be distributed in a way that will create a sustainable legacy for small and local charities).

The House of Lords Select Committee on Charities agree. They’ve called for a greater understanding in the public sector of the advantages of grant funding for charities (pdf, 1.7MB), and recommend that local government consider this when planning their finances.

Where the use of contracts is necessary, commissioners should consider splitting them up to make them more accessible to small and medium charities, as the National Audit Office has recommended (pdf, 325KB) and the government’s own procurement regulations seek to promote.

Make better use of public money – encourage more commissioning for social value

Commissioning for social value is a powerful tool for both generating long term savings and achieving better outcomes. For example, the charity Working Chance has helped place 760 women with criminal convictions into paid employment, whilst simultaneously generating additional social value to society by reducing reoffending rates to just 3 percent.

Despite the impact that social value commissioning like this can have, there is a prevailing culture of focussing on short-term savings and the cheapest bids in public procurement. This not only represents a false economy for the taxpayer, it is hindering the participation of charities in service delivery.

To help address this shortcoming, we are asking that the requirement in the Social Value Act that public bodies ‘consider’ social value in public sector contracts should be upgraded so that they must ‘account for’ social value (again, echoing a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on charities (pdf, 1.7MB) and  NCVO’s response to the Review of the Social Value Act(pdf, 210KB)).

By having to evidence the social value they have generated, commissioners are more likely to incorporate additional social, environmental and economic objectives into their procurement activities. The benefits are clear: 71 percent of respondents to a Social Enterprise UK survey (pdf, 1.9MB) of local authorities and housing associations in 2014 said that a focus on social value had led to ‘better service delivery’, while 52 percent said delivering social value leads to cost savings.

Where next?

As a society we need to think seriously about how we can deliver public services differently and more efficiently. In adult social care alone, a funding gap is predicted to reach at least £2.8bn by the end of the decade (pdf,  1.4MB). Only last week the Institute for Fiscal Studies  said that by 2066 26% of the population is projected to be aged 65 and over, compared to 18% in 2016. This will put additional pressure on public spending because older individuals receive state pensions and are more likely to use health and social care services.

At NCVO we think charities and volunteering are part of the solution. Our message to candidates in next month’s General Election is simple: make it easier for charities and volunteers to support our public services.

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Paul joined NCVO over seven years ago after working for a leading public affairs agency. Since then he’s led our policy work on a variety of issues, including welfare-to-work reforms, volunteering, the Compact, public service commissioning and procurement regulations. He now leads our work on funding and finance with a particular focus on charity tax relief and safeguarding EU funding post-Brexit.

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