Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

Community Budgets and Future Commissioning

In my last post  I discussed how changes to funding and demand will drive Local Authorities to radically reform and reshape their services. In this post I will look at the Whole Place pilot in Greater Manchester – one of the key responses to this problem – and will look at its potential impact on voluntary organisations.

Unfortunately just discussing this issue can be quite complicated, even when just explaining the name. The Whole Place pilot is part of the Governments Community Budgets programme, based on the work developed by the last government under the name Total Place. Confused enough yet?

In order to explain this more fully, the Community Budget programme looks to give local authorities more flexibility over spending by looking how the budgets of different agencies and departments can be better co-ordinated or merged in order to provide a more co-ordinated service. The Whole Place pilot is just one attempt to bring this about with other, smaller initiatives being developed by government elsewhere in the UK. In Greater Manchester the public sector as a whole is looking at how their services interact across a range of themes. More details on this work can be found here with a response from GMCVO here

Rather than get into the detail - as GMCVO will be producing an issue of our policy journal devoted to this work in the next few weeks – I thought it would be worth highlighting a few key points that indicate how the commissioning of public services will change in the future.

There’s a realisation from local public sector partners that new delivery models will be needed. This could well result in very different services being commissioned and even valued local services may be decommissioned if it is believed that a new type of service will have a greater impact. Indeed with less money available it may just be that some services just are not sustainable as there’s only so far you can cut back on a service without changing it significantly.

It’s clear that both central and local government are interested in “scalability” – the idea that small scale interventions won’t make enough impact on demand and so larger programmes that can address larger populations are needed. One result of this will be that we’re likely to see fewer but bigger contracts available. This is already happening in some local authority districts with contracts being aggregated together but we could see services being delivered at a Greater Manchester level that once were more local.

A more significant change though is the desire to move spending from crisis care to prevention. There is a growing sense that much service provision is designed as an attempt to fix problems rather than stop them occurring in the first place and a more preventative approach won’t only just save money but will reduce inequalities and social injustice. Related to this is an understanding that prevention can only really succeed by attempting to change social norms - for example, much ill health could be avoided if there were different attitudes to alcohol consumption, eating and exercise within society.

It’s in this area where GMCVO believes the voluntary sector has the greatest role to play. With many voluntary organisations rooted in the communities they serve they are better placed to lead on such issues, using their trust and reach in communities to build action and debate. Also vital is the ability of voluntary organisations to deliver with their communities, not just to. Co-production  is a term many organisations will have to become more familiar with – having services users much more involved in delivery and design, rather than just passive participants

In short significant change in service delivery is just unavoidable. This article has just addressed mainstream commissioning and hasn't touched on the changes likely to occur from personalistion of services.

The market for traditional public sector services overall is likely to decline as public spending reduces and on top of that the public sector will be looking to deliver services across larger scales and with new ways of working. Smaller organisations, even those with a strong track record and good local relationships, will rightly be concerned at these developments and in order to maintain their work will need to look to wider partnerships and consortiums, such as Converge, the Greater Manchester wellbeing consortium, initiated by GMCVO.

However we may see new demand develop in areas the voluntary sector is well suited to as preventative work becomes a higher priority though. These services may develop slowly at first but if they can demonstrate the ability to reduce demand for critical services in the future then the market for this work will grow significantly. However these services may require different, more creative methods of delivery and certainly should in the delivery involve those who will benefit from the service

A final point is that it’s important voluntary organisations in this more competitive environment recognise the qualities they have that may give them more of an edge. Organisations which as well as delivering public services also undertake activities resourced through volunteering, charitable funding or trading with the public will be more attractive to a public sector seeing resources reduce.