Over the last few years Derby City Council has lost all direction over the grant funding for the Voluntary, Community and Faith (VCF) Sector. It is successfully achieving only one objective, and that is to demotivate the hundreds of volunteers, who provide invaluable support to the community, as well as accommodating some of the Council’s statutory obligations.
Earlier in 2015 the Council issued its Budget Consultation 2015-2018 which highlighted the expected Central Govt cuts. In the list of opportunities identified to achieve the 2015/16 savings, was a reduction in the £577k VCF grant by £100k ( representing just 0.5% of the necessary target- barely a scratch on the surface).
By 21 January 2015 the Council realised that they did not know how to deliver the £100k saving. To ensure continuity in these vital service the full grants were extended to September 2015. A consultation was launched.
At the 18 March 2015 Cabinet meeting, the Council chose to further extend the VCF grant aid to March 2016 thus negating any saving in 2015/16.This was to allow a bidding process to take place. Feedback was given at the meeting on the results of the consultation. It was reported to the Cabinet:
The focus of the updated outcomes has been to maximise the independence of vulnerable adults in the community, reduce demand upon statutory services and promote the independence and resilience of individuals and communities.
And one of the key conclusions was:
The Council and SDCCG have identified that VCF grant funded services provide effective, value for money support for their priorities.
The Consultation mentions on many occasions the link between the outcomes and the support for statutory services. An overall conclusion which re-affirms the value provided by the VCF sector, on the priority areas required, for the grant money provided. Case closed?
Fast forward to September 2015 where there is another change of tack which ignores the good work done before, and trots out the hackneyed comment about the Budget cuts. This is presented as though it is new news. The somewhat laboured introduction is a turgid justification for the current action:
One of the options being considered by the Council is to reduce or cease the funding it provides for discretionary, non-statutory services within the Voluntary and Community Sector.
…and then it introduces yet another consultation process….
This consultation process forms part of the Big Conversation the Council has re-launched to gather the comments of local people and partners to inform the difficult decisions the Council needs to make to balance its budget in the next three years.
The Council has already identified that the VCF grants give value for money (VFM) so further reductions will impact on statutory/priority outcomes, and will result in a net increase to the overall Council budget.
The Consultation process is ineffective. I have been to a number of “consultation” meetings. At best, they were one-way presentations with largely disinterested parties, bolted onto an existing, unrelated agenda. A large quantity of people in attendance does not make a quality “consultation”. A self-selected group of people who have the time, and inclination to fill in the questionnaire does not make a consultation.
The 1st question in the new consultation must qualify as the most inane question ever asked:
Do you agree with the Council’s proposal to cease or reduce funding for the voluntary sector services in the consultation? Please select one option. Yes/No
Quite what response the Council was expecting other than “No” is hard to contemplate?
In March 2015 the total budget for Grant aid was £577k. According to a Council spokesperson, this has now increased to £722k, in less than 6 months. In a period when savings need to be made, the Council seems incapable of controlling to its own tight budgets!
With respect to the extent of the cuts, a Council spokesperson confirmed: “The Council has not pre-determined how much it expects to save….. The maximum possible saving is 100% of this spending.” So is it a real possibility that the Council will cut 100% of grant aid funding for priority services which it already considers are VFM. If it has no intention of cutting 100% then why say it – such idle threats are irresponsible and unethical.
The Council should use the available time wisely, be transparent in its intentions and work with people and organisations to conduct an effective review, and not trudge mindlessly through a farcical consultation which seems like a pointless precursor to the implementation of a pre-determined arbitrary decision….that nobody understands, agrees with, or wants.
The Council should state clearly and simply, in advance, the statutory services, and priorities, which VCF organisations should be supporting.
Have a focussed meeting with each organisation to understand, and agree, to what extent the services they provide, deliver against these criteria, and how the funding awarded, supports these priorities and outcomes. Services could be tailored to provide a better coverage for statutory obligations…and perhaps save the Council money!
If the situation is marginal, or unsatisfactory, then genuinely consult with the service users, and other partner organisations to consider a wider perspective, and refine the assessment, or level of grant awarded.
Conduct current VFM studies. Without this, the Council cannot know if their intended actions to cut support will result in a net increase to the overall Council budget. Surely essential due diligence for anything other than a short term view.
The charade of a consultation will not make it any more palatable to the general public. A process which has been air-brushed to convince the Council that they are carrying out a rigorous, intellectual process is disingenuous, and treating the residents of Derby, and all of the hard-working people affected, within the VCF sector, with contempt. If the Council, ideologically, wants to cut the funding to the VCF sector and blame it on Central Govt cuts, then they should do it, transparently, and not wrap it up as anything else.
The Council should take a leaf out of the new Labour Party leader’s book – “Straight Talking. Honest Politics”