I realised when I did my article last week about the youth contract and work programme that it had been a long time...
since I last blogged (I know, you've missed my witty remarks and incisive comment. Okay, don't answer that!). The period January to March is always a busy time of year for any voluntary organisation with staff - the challenges of negotiating with commissioners for funding for the following year, budgeting, planning delivery etc. Ensuring that projects are on track to deliver outputs, and spend any restricted funding that needs to be spent, by year end. And of course, that's some of what I've been doing. But that is only part of the picture.
So, I thought that, in this article I'd try and capture some of the work T3SC and I have been involved in over the last few weeks. Much of it is 'hidden' - work that goes on behind the scenes to try and grow and support voluntary and community action in the borough.
We've been doing lots of work around consortium development and helping organisations collaborate. Increasingly, at a local level commissioners of services are bundling up services into larger commissioned contracts and putting them out to tender, and whilst we can argue about the pros and cons of this (and believe me, we are), often the only way that smaller, local voluntary groups are going to win work in the future is by working and bidding together and becoming what we've started calling delivery networks. So, over the last few months Anna, the health and social care officer here, has been providing intensive support to three organisations bidding for the local advocacy contract. I am a founder director of the GM Wellbeing Consortium, set up to help small voluntary, community and faith organisations make the most of any commissioning that happens at a Greater Manchester wide level. We now have over 70 full and associate members. With the announcement about the GM Whole Place Community Budgets pilot, public sector reform across GM generally (including the clustering of PCTs), I firmly believe that more commissioning of services will happen at a GM level. The Wellbeing Consortium will give local organisations an opportunity to bid to deliver some of this work, so if your organisation is interested in delivering services in future it should consider joining. GMCVO are running a series of 'supply chain' events to help illustrate the different areas where the sector could be placed to deliver services.
The third piece of work in relation to collaborative activity is working with local children, young people and families voluntary and community sector providers in Tameside, helping them to work together. I'm really pleased that the local authority is really supportive of this, and hope that this initiative will result in better services and outcomes for children and young people, with more support being provided by voluntary sector organisations (and recognised).
Our Transforming Local Infrastructure project will help to provide additional support to these collaborations.
Of course, contracts for larger scale service delivery aren't the only form of funding. T3SC have long argued about a 'mixed economy' of funding - including the vital place of small grants - and this is an area where we continue to work behind the scenes. We’re delighted that 'You Choose' will be available locally again this year, with small grants distributed via a participatory budgeting process. Last year 140 small groups benefitted, and Tameside Council are to be commended for continuing this scheme in the light of overall funding reductions. We've also been working with NHS Tameside and Glossop, evidencing the role that small organisations play in improving mental health. We hope that this will lead to a new grants programme to support the '5 ways to wellbeing' initiative - more on this before the end of March.
T3SC host Tameside Local Improvement Network (LINk), set up to help local people have a say in, and help to improve, health and social care services. Some of this work, most notably our enter and view visits at Tameside General Hospital, has become quite high profile, with the publication of our latest report early in the new year, and I have been involved in supporting our team, and the LINk board and volunteers. I’m really proud of the way that we’ve gone about this work, which we hope will result in improved care for patients in Tameside Hospital.
Personally, much of my time has been taken up in developing our plans for our new organisation, Community and Voluntary Action Tameside, to be formed by T3SC and Volunteer Centre Tameside coming together. The Board and its working groups are fully up and running, and we’re making real progress on all the really important things that are often overlooked but are vital for solid foundations – HR and finance, systems and processes. And budgets...and budgets...and budgets...
And alongside that I’ve been doing the preparation work on our Transforming Local Infrastructure project – CVAT is part of this, but much of it is about improving the support that frontline groups get. We’ll be launching Tameside 4 Good as part of this. Contact me to find out more, and importantly to let me know what services you’d like to see us provide.
Finally, the English Defence League (EDL) march in Hyde on Saturday. I thought there was a magnificent, multi-agency approach working with the local community that ensured that this abhorrent spectacle passed peacefully, and I’m proud that we were part of that response, even in a small way – through Faiths United we’ve been involved in community cohesion and in providing a community mediator on the day.