The Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales has just published an interesting report Expert Yet Undervalued and on the Front Line which brings together the views of 800 small and medium sized charities.
The key findings include:
The report recognises what many of us know, that demand is rising and it is getting more complex. Many charities report that they are having to fill the void left as other, largely statutory services, close. They say that welfare reform and the impact of the recession on individuals have made the problem worse. The report says that people who are poorer are often less resilient and need more help when things go wrong.
The Foundation says that funding and income is the greatest challenge being faced by charities. This has led to competition and difficult decisions over where to direct scarce resources, both for funders and charities themselves
The report pays particular attention to commissioning which, it concludes, is failing charities and failing those they support. This is particularly the case when competing against large, national and/or commercial providers who typically win larger contracts. The contracts are often priced to work with people with less complex problems and those easiest to help when small and medium size charities frequently work with those with more complex needs who require more help. Commissioning promotes competition over collaboration. Many small charity struggle to meet the excessive monitoring requirements which neither reflect the value of the contract nor focus on those they exist to support.
The report comes up with a number of conclusions and recommendations. It says: “In most cases, small and medium size charities have the method, if not the means, to support those facing multiple disadvantage. They just need the right support to be able to do this”.
One recommendation that I strongly endorse is that the government, at local and national levels, need to place greater emphasis on the wider social value that can be achieved when commissioning local services.
It also recommends that government should reassess the funding of services, with a greater emphasis on grants as a part of a more flexible funding mix that enables the best organisations to meet in the best way.
In my opinion the current system often sees that it is those organisations with the greatest skills in tendering who are winning contracts rather than those with the best track record in resolving issues. By all means commissioners should be robust in ensuring that commissioned serves are delivering as required. Sadly, there are cases where the process of commissioning itself is seen as the objective, rather than the difference the commissioned service makes.
The question that needs answering is whether commissioners are equipped, in skills and attitude, to commission the best services at this time of such great need.
(Many of the issues raised in the Lloyds Bank Foundation’s report are similar to some of the issues raised in two reports published by the Centre for Social Justice, Something’s Got to Give: The state of Britain’s voluntary and community sector and Social Solutions: Enabling grass-roots charities to tackle poverty. I declare an interest, I was on the working group that wrote these two reports).