The Chancellor’s spending review brought some relief for charities and social sector organisations concerned about their futures amidst a landscape of tightening budgets. The protection of the Big Lottery Fund, 220,000 more places on the National Citizen Service, and £20m a year of new support for social impact bonds are welcome gestures that will ease the minds of many in the sector. But now is not the time to relax.
There are still significant cuts to unprotected departments and by the end of parliament spending will fall 45% in 2010 to 36.5% as a share of GDP. This is a concern for organisations reliant on state funding, but the argument shouldn’t be about a shrinking state.
This is an opportunity to radically redefine public service delivery, challenge the old orthodoxies and deploy more human, relational services that reduce bureaucracy. We must rethink who is best placed to deliver services and government must create the conditions by which the significant capacity that exists in our communities to be unlocked and put to use. This means revisiting tired statutory frameworks, challenging regulators and being ambitious for our service users.
The spending review sets out some examples of this kind of thinking, and it is crucial these ideas are followed through.
The Chancellor’s plan to sell off old Victorian jails to raise revenue and build new modern buildings instead is welcome. But let’s seriously rethink how these new prisons are designed rather than rebuilding the same thing in a cheaper setting. The government’s commitment to a more ‘humane setting’ must take work, learning and rehabilitation into consideration in the design process. The Ministry of Justice has a capacity for new thinking in the context of £80 million in cuts for prisons but it is the end result on which they should be judged.
Local government will soon be able to raise funds for social care through a 2% levy on council tax – a welcome move that will go some way to ease funding shortfalls experienced at the local level. The worry is that the social care levy will be used to fill pot-holes rather than being spent in the areas it is most needed. This a particular concern in the context of increased demand for services and significant reductions to the central government grant, which in 2013-14 accounted for approximately one third of council revenue (totalling £18 billion). Councils must ring-fence this revenue for social spending.
Public services are bearing the brunt of budget cuts. Now is the time to radically rethink how we deliver services rather than simply doing things in the same old way but with fewer resources.
There is already a wealth of innovative thinking happening at service delivery level to build upon. In Crewe, we are piloting a scheme with Cheshire East Council to provide wrap-around support to children identified as in need who are referred by the council. Such partnerships can reduce pressure on local services while maintaining standards and accountability.
Social impact bonds to finance specific services are another innovative measure that can transform public services. We are working in partnership with West Midlands Police, a range of other local organisations and investors, to launch and deliver an innovative new youth violence service in the West Midlands that will improve outcomes while also generating savings for the local authorities involved.
We cannot accept that there’s now less money in the ‘system’ and simply cut provisions and services. The Chancellor’s budget is far from sounding the death knell of social sector organisations, but we must be creative and open if we are to adapt. We must develop partnerships, draw on the resources and capacity of all sectors and be bold in our rethinking of public service delivery. This isn’t just a case of protecting the outcomes of service users in the face of fiscal challenges, it is an opportunity improve them.
Chris Wright is Chief Executive of youth charity, Catch22