VCSE SWOT 2015 Early Findings
The TCA team have been required to produce an up to date analysis of the
strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing Cornwall’s voluntary,
community and social enterprise sector. This was to act as part of the baseline
for the project and give some learning to inform further work around the
following elements of the project:
Options appraisal for a new model for sector support
Learning for Commissioning Support
Capacity building needs related to VCSE involvement in the forthcoming
EU Growth programme.
The team gathered evidence for the SWOT analysis as follows:
1. TCA launch feedback, 15th June. The team collected views and opinions
from X people gathered at the launch of the project at St Erme.
2. Input from TCA task forces, including Commissioning and Infrastructure,
July 2015.
3. Stakeholder survey. The TCA Researcher went back to the original
stakeholders (a mix group of public and voluntary sector leaders)
originally interviewed as part of the fieldwork for the earlier VCSE survey
by Transform Research in August 2013 to see how their views of the
sector had changed over the intervening two years.
4. 1-1 interview logs with a variety of providers, commissioners and users.
5. Survey of sector. 205 respondents from a variety of sizes and types of
VCSE organisation were re-interviewed from the original sample of 452
respondents in the large 452 organisation survey in 2013. Fieldwork was
completed in September 2015.
6. Desktop review of key national research documents. (See appendix 2
7. Feedback from regional and national events, e.g. October 2015 Capita
Conference on ‘Third Sector Commissioning’.
Key findings – summary of areas of consensus and / or strong evidence
Embedded in local communities
Passionate and committed
Communicators, facilitators
Reaches service users others can’t
Feisty, resourceful, access to funding
Flexible and responsive
Highest volunteering rates UK
Good employment practices – including for hard to reach
Some good public sector relationships
Strong track record employment and skills (as evidence in EU
Convergence programme).
Inter-sector fights
Mission drift from the chasing of funding during a period of austerity
Increased pressure from rising user demand /a lack of capacity
Poor leadership/senior management
Needs support managing volunteers
Lack of differentiation - 'Jack of all trades'
Strategic collaboration with public sector regressed in some areas
Governance skills
Measuring effectiveness and impact
European Growth Programme
Care Act
Community resilience and preventative approaches
Localism / devolution
Increased demand for its services
Developments over commissioning
Trading and charging as a route to enhanced sustainability.
Enhanced partnership working / consortia.
Austerity and funding cuts impacting on the sector
Low reserves, lack of investment funds
Public sector silo working
Developments over commissioning (this is seen as both an opportunity
and a threat)
Grant funding - low supply and high demand
Competition from big contractors
Key findings from national evidence base
There has been a national decoupling of VCSE turnover and growth from
the underlying performance of the economy since 2011. Nationally, VCSE
turnover had shrunk markedly in recent years whilst the economy as a
whole has recovered.
Nationally, there is good evidence of the increased use of charging by
VCSE organisations to help address their financial sustainability.
There appears to be a better trajectory of growth for social enterprise
than for more traditional charities. There is clear local evidence for this in
2013 local survey. A new SEUK report has given some recent national
evidence that this is a general trend.
National, the activities and users of social enterprises appear increasingly
diverse when compared to the VCSE sector as a whole where there is a
continuing focus on health and social care.
Some national commentators have presented a view of current
commissioning and procurement regimes as presenting a ‘heavy burden’
on VCSE providers.
Key findings from VCSE survey 2015
More work remains to be done to compare and contrast the findings of the 2013
survey with the recent 2015 fieldwork with the same base of organisations.
However some early findings are presented below.
Overall, there is a high degree of continuity with the overall 2013 findings,
with a few significant differences.
There is evidence for an overall reduction in capacity of up to 20%.
However, it would appear that this might be a more modest reduction that
experienced elsewhere in the UK by the sector.
Key management skill needs have been identified as below:
Key skill area
Net % of respondents agreeing
that this is a key management skill
area for their organisation over the
next five years
Financial management
Managing volunteers
Social Investment
(From a survey of 205 VCSE organisations active in Cornwall, August 2015)
Further work is being conducted to fully analyse the finding from the 2015
survey and this will be published in due course. As occurred in 2013,
there are likely to be a number of pieces of follow up work done to
examine areas of particular interest emerging from the findings - see
‘What next?’
What has changed?
There have been a number of significant developments in the operating context
for the VCSE which have been identified by respondents. These include:
Care Act 2014
Delay in EU Growth Programme (and subsequent funding gap)
Case for Cornwall / Cornwall Deal and prospects for Health and Social
Care integration
Collaboration with public sector has ‘going backwards’ in some areas likely
due to continuing impact of austerity and cuts
Increased evidence of impact of community resilience approaches (e.g.
Living Well)
The imminent end of VCSE infrastructure grants by Cornwall Council.
What next?
The following next steps are proposed:
Go back to the Commissioning and Infrastructure Task and Finish groups
for further / final comment
Conduct a small TCA survey of larger VCSE organisations of £500k plus
turnover, to complement and contrast with the large survey just
A trading and business skills study has been built into project plan for the
TCA’s Technical Assistance proposal.
2013 Cornwall VCSE Survey, conducted by Transform Research for
Cornwall Council and Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum.
A financial Sustainability Review, NCVO July 2015.
State of Social Enterprise, SEUK, 2015.
Beyond Big Contracts, Crowe et al, 2015
Fight or Fright, NCIA, January 2015.
A. Narrative feedback from stakeholder interviews.
B. Summary of desktop research of national reports.
Appendix A: Narrative feedback from stakeholder interviews
WARNING: The following are the views of a small mixed group of public and
voluntary sector leaders which were used to inform the development of the
VCSE SWOT report. Other material and evidence was used to supplement these
views, as listed in the SWOT Early Findings report and in some cases this has
refuted the viewpoints expressed below. In all cases, the SWOT Early Findings
report is the definitive document and this additional material is presented as
supplementary information on opinions only.
Embedded in local communities
VSCE organisations were considered by the majority of respondents to be
embedded and trusted, which was considered to be an important aspect of
legitimacy in delivery. Living Well was cited by one respondent as an example of
good practice in this regard. Caveats were expressed by some however,
including 'they are not as embedded as they like to think that they are' and 'we
need good, up to date precise evidence to demonstrate these glib statements'.
It was also noted that services are pulling back in a lot of areas, and another
trend where a polarisation between medium and large organisations has
occurred, with the latter becoming more professionalised and less embedded
and smaller community organisations having assumed a more direct role than
Passionate and committed
Many respondents agreed, but again certain provisos were expressed. For
example, recent changes in contracting behaviours by local authority and NHS
towards the VSCE were viewed as having stymied the passion and commitment
within the sector somewhat, and impacted upon the sector's trust. One
respondent felt that the passion in the VSCE sector needed to be matched by
managerial and operational skills; 'there is a need for managers as well as social
activists'. However, one of the benefits of a less controlled approach meant that
the VSCE sector 'ploughed on because they don't know that they can't do it'.
Communicators, facilitators
It was felt on the whole this was the case, although obviously some
organisations were better than others and it 'depends on how you define
community'. Some felt that this function was getting weaker, with cuts
hindering their ability to fulfil this role. As another respondent stated 'when
times are tough, there is a tendency to turn inward a little, some have stopped
reaching out in the same way'. This view was supported by another who stated
that the VSCE organisations tend to be 'good within their own group, but not so
effective externally'. A final respondent felt it was important to remind those
who 'thought they were a voice for the community', that their organisational
views should not be prioritised as representing the sector, and that good
consultation was still paramount.
Reaches service users others can’t
Emphasis was given to the fact that since the VSCE tended to work in areas of
deprivation, that it had an intrinsic social focus as well as the bottom line.
Another respondent highlighted the different groups that could be defined as
'hard to reach', which could equally be a 'family where both parents work'.
Some respondents clarified that it was not so much about 'reach' but about
getting individuals to engage and trust; a difference which was important to
bear it mind since it points to different approaches and methodologies that the
VSCE sector can deploy to developing this trust. This was considered to be a
particular strength for the VSCE, particularly when trust levels with the public
sector can be low. A public sector respondent however, disagreed, stating that
the statutory sector was just as competent, citing how universal health care
reaches 98% of the population and reminding us that: 'the VSCE does not have
a unique foothold here'.
Feisty, resourceful, access to funding
This question elicited quite a diversity of responses. One respondent felt that it
did have access to funding beyond the public sector, but they weren't sure that
the sector was particularly resourceful. In contrast, another felt that local
fundraising, trading, and charging were becoming more important sources of
income. It was felt that resourcefulness 'can be a weakness too', and this
respondent stressed the need to find a 'balance between chasing money and
delivery'. European funding was cited by one respondent as 'generating inertia
and sucking up all creativity and innovation'. Although it was highlighted that,
in reality, public funding, was only a small proportion of income to the VSCE,
those organisations currently funded by the Council were nervous. This
sentiment was criticised by another stakeholder 'Infrastructure thinks that it has
a 'right' to Council funding'. Other stakeholders felt that more funding
opportunities were emerging for people who were prepared to work
collaboratively and in partnership. A pro-Social Enterprise respondent
highlighted the range of funding opportunities open to these businesses.
Flexible and responsive
Comments included that the sector was more flexible and responsive that
statutory services, but 'not quite as flexible as it likes to think'. Whilst one
respondent felt that these characteristics have been hit by ongoing impact of
austerity, another felt that the sector's response to austerity had demonstrated
their flexibility by 'shrinking' yet still trying to deliver the same core services,
'They have squeezed out inefficiency and opted for greater collaboration, there is
little spare capacity though'.
Highest volunteering rates UK
There were mixed feelings about this. Whilst it was largely agreed that Cornwall
had a good rate of volunteering, many respondents were keen to remind us that
'this is more to do with the demography and wealth profile of Cornwall, more
than anything special we have done'. The 'figures' cited, were distrusted by
another who considered it be part of a 'marketing campaign'. It was felt that a
conversation was required about the interaction between infrastructure and rest
of sector, in recognition that a good deal of volunteering occurs outside of the
infrastructure support. One stakeholder raised that the concern that high
volunteering rates would be hit by austerity and the welfare requirement to do
37 hours of job search per week.
Good employment practices – including for hard to reach
It was felt that intent was good within VSCE organisations, but that employment
practices were not necessarily better than elsewhere, and in many cases were
not as good as the private sector as a result of poor management. Although
there were some good examples of 'hard to reach' clients being employed by the
VSCE organisation that had supported them, it was felt that on-the-job support
and progression differed significantly across different organisations. Questions
were also raised about how employment practices were measured.
Some good public sector relationships
Whilst a majority agreed that there were 'some' good relationships with the
public sector, a few felt that the relationship of the sector with the Council had
regressed in recent months. Relationships between the two sectors were
described as 'patchy', 'fragmented' or 'variable'. Another respondent was more
philosophical outlining the presence of 'some' strong relationships with certain
public sector employees who understood the VSCE sector, but wished to remind
us that there were some VSCE sector organisations who also behave very poorly
with regards to the Council. One stakeholder referred to the master/servant
dichotomy which still characterised the relationship between the Council and the
VSCE, which means the VSCE cannot interact as an equal since it is 'beholden to
the Council for funding'. It was felt that the VSCE had to choose between
campaigning on certain issues with the Council, or opting to build relationships,
when ideally, you should be able to campaign and raise awareness alongside
securing public sector contracts. The subject of Infrastructure organisations
was referenced again, in that it was considered that 'not all' infrastructure
organisations have worked to the benefit of the sector, and instead have worked
for themselves.
Strong track record employment and skills
One respondent felt that the sector was good at developing its own staff and
building in skills that meet the immediate needs of the sector, but not
necessarily the employment and skills needs of the wider community. Another
stakeholder felt that whilst VSCE had a good track record in supporting those
who wouldn't normally access mainstream services like colleges, they could
improve on referrals to other organisations where client learning opportunities
would be more appropriate. There was also a need to give more focus to what
client training is actually purposed for and to ensure that progression pathways
were given attention to. Whilst one stakeholder argued that successive
European programmes have impacted this significantly on the VSCE sector's
ability to engage in an employment and skills agenda, another respondent
commented that 'the sector used to do a great return to work programme, but
those contracts have now gone to Prospects and Working Links'. It was argued
that the content of contracts today disadvantages the VSCE sector.
Includes best practice from Living Well
Respondents were often quite sceptical about the claims made by Living Well.
Comments included 'statistics have not been verified'; 'I don't know too much
about this project' etc. Whilst others acknowledged its preventative approach,
it was not without the suggestion that Living well simply reflects long standing
good practice, that pre-dates the Living Well branding: 'Like Big Society, it'll
come and go'. The 'emperor's new clothes' was mentioned a couple of times. A
critique was also made that it was not sufficiently embedded enough across the
sector. Reference was also made to the fact that Living Well functions primarily
as a referral agency, and that if cuts to the VSCE sector were to continue 'there
would be nothing to refer to anyway'.
Inter-sector fights
Whilst most agreed this was a weakness, several respondents felt that it was
'inevitable', particularly given the era of cuts, austerity and budget constraints
which had impacted upon trust and collaboration in the sector and increased
competition. Again, infrastructure organisations were referenced as being
particularly prone to this weakness. One stakeholder commented that an
'absence of EU funding would force organisations to work more closely together',
whilst others felt that VSCE organisations generally don't work well together,
unless they have tactical reasons to do so, such as commissioning approaches
which encourage collaboration.
Mission drift / chasing funding
A picture of VCSE Infrastructure organisations mission drifting in order to 'chase
funding' was painted by some. More generally, mission drift was felt to be
something that affected a lot of organisations under financial pressure, as one
stakeholder said 'it happens, you can understand why'. Others were less
sympathetic accusing some in the VSCE sector of focussing on organisational
survival above and beyond the needs of the clients. One stakeholder argued
that sometimes partners take on contracts to use the funding as core-funding,
thus bending the funding, rather than the mission. Conversely, another
stakeholder provided an example of a valuable service that was producing good
results, which ceased to function as effectively because delivery had to be
changed to suit funding requirements. One further respondent stated that, 'not
all accusations of drift in the sector are true', arguing that 'missions get
completed, can't remain mission-based forever'. Another respondent believed
that the 'fog of European funding', made mission drift considerably worse for the
Increased pressure/lacks capacity
Those who agreed stated that pressure had increased and funding cuts/austerity
was leading to reduced capacity.
Poor leadership/senior management
Again some stressed that the sector was too diverse to be summarised with a
generalised answer. It was argued that there were pockets of this in every
sector, 'poor leadership is not exclusive to VSCE'. As for all sectors, there were
some inspiring, creative leaders and others who were 'unprincipled and of poor
quality'. One respondent highlighted the considerable diversity of backgrounds
from which leaders enter the VSCE sector; this can be a strength, but also
means some lack good leadership or management training. One of the
infrastructure organisations outlined an initiative they had set up themselves to
support VSCE Chief Execs, Chairs, and grass roots groups, they had received no
additional funding to do so. It was felt that CEO or strategic leadership training
would be beneficial in order to have a consistent standard in VSCE delivery.
Needs support managing volunteers
Comments referenced increasingly inappropriate use of volunteers, to fulfil roles
which they 'should not be operating in'. The public sector was also deemed to
be guilty of this. One infrastructure organisation spoke of the 'Level 3 volunteer
management training' that it delivers, whilst another respondent queried why
support around volunteers is still such a need: 'wasn't that what the
infrastructure money was for?'
Lack of differentiation - 'Jack of all trades'
It was felt by some that this could be a problem, but usually 'out of necessity'.
Again - some of the larger statutory providers were referenced as falling prey to
this. Critiques made included a tendency for VSCE to think simply that 'it must
get funded because it makes sense', alluding to a lack of needs analysis and
strategic thought. Another stakeholder accused certain VSCE organisations of
obfuscating commissioners through lobbying and political influence.
Lack contract management skills
It was felt that there was good and bad practice across the sector. Larger
organisations sometimes benefitted from dedicated contract managers, smaller
organisations had to focus resource towards delivery. Some respondents felt
that 'a lack of good contracts', was more of a problem than poor contract
management. One organisation stated that for 4 out of 6 years of operating
with Council/NHS they have had to threaten them with legal action for late
Here because we're here' attitude
Comments were split including 'yes and it's always likely to be that way', and
'it's only a minority of organisation who have this attitude'. One stakeholder
responded to this question with a query as to why at no point in our survey was
there a single question about quality of service or the impact on the end-user?
Another suggested that the voluntary sector should only be there because of
need and that better evidence is required to evidence the impact and outcome of
its presence.
Strategic collaboration with public sector regressed
Of those who answered, opinion was mixed. Some disagreed and felt that it had
improved in certain areas of late. The principles behind the VSCE commissioning
board and TCA were referred to, but in the case of the former, execution was
poor and it remains to be seen for the latter. One stakeholder felt that both the
public sector and the VSCE tend to look inward when cuts are in force, with
others agreeing that the the Council savings agenda had not helped this. It was
considered that the Council still wielded its presence and resource as a
'controlling force', with the switch from 'big provider' to 'enabler' not having yet
manifested: ' The voluntary sector is always expected to be ready to be called to
a meeting to support its initiatives'.
Trustee boards lack skills/resistant to change
Again, this was felt like too big a generalisation to make. There are examples
of great practice (air ambulance) in VSCE and poor practice, just as in there are
examples of poor statutory sector leadership amidst councillors. Possible areas
of improvement for trustees included the need to remember that the goal was to
achieve charitable objectives, not just solely to sustain the organisation. Trustee
skills audits were recommended as good practice in order to ensure the right
balance of skills to set a strategic direction, but not to micro-manage. One
stakeholder observed that very often, trustees were unaware of their strategic
and legal responsibilities which put them at risk. A final respondent stated
clearly that the VSCE orgs had a responsibility to pick good trustees and 'get rid'
of the bad ones, 'as you would in a company'.
Measuring effectiveness and impact
Many respondents highlighted that there are 'pockets of great practice', but that
it was still very variable across the sector. One stakeholder highlighted how this
problem is not in any way unique to the voluntary sector. Areas of concern
included: the need to more effectively demonstrate the good work the sector
does, (acknowledging the limited resources it has to do so effectively); more
effective feedback from beneficiaries themselves to demonstrate effectiveness,
and the need to improve MI systems and data sharing across Cornwall (it was
suggested that this latter point this could be a TCA objective).
Lacks bid writing, marketing, presentation
Again, this was not considered to be a universal feature - 'you can't generalise a
whole sector'. It was acknowledged that smaller organisations would have 'less
resource to do the spin'. Some also made the point that it wasn't the sector that
lacked the skills, but the nature of bids themselves disadvantaged the sector, by
not allowing for true delivery costs, and using procurement processes that have
disadvantaged them because of the size and scale of procurement; 'they are hell
bent on a huge provider, rather than more sub-contracts'.
Not contract ready
Views could not be generalised - some very good areas of practice, some poor,
as for any other sector.
Lacks policies and procedures
It was felt that respondents that they could not generalise across the sector some very good areas of practice, some poor, as for any other sector.
European Growth Programme
Most considered this to be a big opportunity and some referenced partnerships
that were being developed in preparation, however a few caveats were
expressed in relationship to the programme. One respondent felt that the rules
and regulations made it quite difficult for the sector to access it, and that
payment by results can cause difficulties with cash flow. Another queried who
the growth fund opportunity was for? Another was concerned of the 'risk that
the money will be wasted again' and that it was important for the Council to
combine ESF and ERDF funding and 'not just procure pet projects'. A further
respondent felt that the sector was 'obsessed with it', yet warned that it also
represented a dependency threat: 'it can be a sticking plaster if the sector is not
transformed as a whole'. This was echoed in the view of an additional
stakeholder who said 'it would be good to use parts of the EU money to make
some fundamental changes in strategy and collaboration'.
Care Act 2014
The care act was largely viewed as a disappointment. Whilst in theory, it
represented the opportunity to support vulnerable people and individuals
through advocacy, the reality is that the policy lacks the teeth and on-theground resource to do so. 'The Care act makes great statements about what
communities will do, but how and with what resource?' Another reminder was
issued that 'volunteers are not a free resource', and yet the Care Act would
depend upon the activation of several hundred volunteer advocates.
Community resilience approaches (e.g. Living well/pioneer)
Those who commented on the concept of Community Resilience did so with
some cynicism that it was yet another buzzword that would 'die off like the big
society'. In a similar vein, it was suggested by one stakeholder that 'coproduction' is just good old fashioned community development and youth work.
Again it was stressed that the 'VSCE sector can't deliver services for free', which
could be problematic for community resilience given that one of the key pillars of
community resilience is unpaid volunteer work. Another respondent considered
Community Resilience to be 'a good concept and one that links with the idea of
co-production, but it is not necessarily synonymous with the voluntary sector. '
Living Well, again received a somewhat lukewarm reception with one
stakeholder querying 'whether it has been evaluated well enough to demonstrate
the results it boasts? '.
TCA project
Most stakeholders found it difficult to speculate about the TCA opportunity at the
time of interview. Most felt the idea was good in principle, but that they had
'not yet seen the team working in an integrated or collaborative way across the
council yet'. One suggestion was made that TCA could be used for EU match
funding to multiply the impact of the project. One stakeholder held a more
positive view stating that TCA was 'potentially a huge opportunity to change the
terms of the game around commissioning, and to influence European bids and to
get co-production embedded'.
Developments in commissioning
This was considered to be 'an opportunity for some and a threat for others'.
Commentary offered in relation to commissioning included the need for Cornwall
Council to have a strategic approach to commissioning in order to help the
sector, and that unfortunately, the VSCE commissioning board whilst strong as a
concept, did not have teeth and lost ground. Several changes and 'cultural
shifts' in relation to the way commissioning is performed were identified
including: letting bidders know in advance when contracts were coming out;
developing alliance commissioning to facilitate participation of smaller providers;
the council taking a frank look at its 'risk averse' nature'; genuinely asking what
is best of the people of Cornwall, rather than the Council and embedding
practices of co-design, co-production and cooperative commissioning in order to
meet the needs expressed. to meet the needs.
Localism Act and rights
The localism drive was considered to have 'fizzled out' by some stakeholders:
'you have to look high and low for examples'. It was felt to be more symbolic
than practical. In theory, it was considered to be an opportunity for the sector
to devolve its functions, but the assumption that towns and parish councils
would step in to pick this up was not considered realistic: 'It's a lovely theory,
but I don't think we have the right skills sets in our communities'. The
devolution debate was also not fully represented within the Council in
commissioning practices either, as one stakeholder asserted 'local individual
companies get turned down, but big companies are given free reign'.
Increased demand for its services
Respondents suggested that with the shrinking of local authority budgets, the
role of the VSCE sector takes on even more significance. However, the perennial
issue was the sense that 'we are being asked for more for less, someone still
needs to pay for it'. Given the impact of the current government's policies on
the most vulnerable, it was stressed that services should be planned and
delivered in a much more targeted way, by paying careful attention to those
specific client groups who would be especially impacted upon: 'We need to to
have a heads up on biggest cut impacts and respond accordingly'. The impact of
Welfare payment sanctions was highlighted by several respondents at different
points across the interview.
Austerity Cuts
The idea of austerity cuts representing an opportunity for the sector was
'rubbished' by many, and the issue of being 'asked for more for less' was
stressed again. Of those who agreed the cuts could represent an opportunity,
the following was highlighted: 1) It could force alliancing and less siloed
working, 2) it forces a greater focus on alternatives, 3) the example of Living
Well demonstrates that 'you can deliver services for less and don't necessarily
need clinicians to improve health issues', 4) it might streamline the number of
services, thereby making it simpler for customers.
Target more complex needs rather than 'low hanging fruit'.
‘I think that's a statement made my someone who has never worked on the
front line' is the response of one interviewee. Most agreed that targeting was
necessary - but preventative work is key.
Surge in interest for social enterprise
In summary - there was a sense that it had bought in 'new blood' to the sector,
but that the honeymoon phase was definitely over. Those who were proponents
of Social Enterprise (obviously), were still very effusive about it's potential, other
more established members of the VSCE sector felt it had been over-emphasised:
'some of the projects people are coming up with, I have to sit down and tell
them they should be doing this in their spare time - it's a hobby, not a viable
Case for Cornwall
Respondents were still seeking clarity with regards to the Case for Cornwall:
'There's a lot of spin, I'm not sure about the substance'. Others cynically felt
that the council lacked the skills to implement it and that it would not follow
through: 'it'll go the same way as the community transport budget'. On one
hand there was concern that it wouldn't benefit smaller organisations since the
pooling of health and social care budgets would lead to increased size of contract
in order to increase efficiencies of scale. Stakeholders queried whether the
Case for Cornwall was driven by the needs of the Council Cornwall and
respondents noted that there was no mention of the VSCE sector in its
proposals. Others suggested that the Case for Cornwall should be about
engaging different partners, and providing opportunities for small specialist
organisations to challenge the larger pan-Cornwall charities - particularly if
delivery was going to return to district council level.
The Social Value Act
Similarly to the care act, it was considered to be a valuable concept and an
important message, but lacking teeth for implementation.
Welfare reform
In the same vein as austerity cuts, it was considered that welfare reform would
generate additional clients, at a time when resources were at their lowest ebb.
Some respondents strongly articulated the sector's failure to talk about and
respond to the impact of sanctions and welfare reform on the the most
disadvantaged ' it's a disgrace, no one is listening to the problems being created
by the reform of the welfare sector which is sanctioning the weak and illinformed'. Conversely, another respondent pointed out that the problems
posed by welfare reform 'could be an an opportunity for the sector to show it's
Austerity and funding cuts
The threat of VSCE organisations 'going under' as a result of austerity and
funding cuts was highlighted by several respondents, with some anticipating
'another round of organisational collapse' shortly. One stakeholder felt however
that the threats should not be overplayed.
Low reserves, lack of investment funds
This was considered to be a significant threat for many organisations, especially
the smaller ones. One respondent, however, asserted that: 'with good,
intelligent commissioning, it shouldn't be a threat'.
Public sector silo working
This was accepted by some as a standard phenomenon of public sector life: 'it
exists everywhere'.
Grant funding - low supply and high demand
This was considered by some to be a genuine threat for the VSCE sector,
particularly for those without the reserves to work towards outcome-based
commissioning. Not being able to set KPI's was considered too great a risk by
those of commissioning and procurement background, whereas others felt that
some return to grant funding should be an important complement to current
commissioning practices.
Developments in commissioning
Some see these developments as an opportunity, provided that the VSCE
organisation has the capacity to respond. The recent 11+ bid was used by one
stakeholder to illustrate the amount of time and resource it takes for an
organisation to submit a bid, all of which amounts to time away from delivery,
'not being able to respond to changes in commissioning is a different thing to
whether or not you are doing a good job'. One respondent stated that 'if it
were good, intelligent commissioning, it wouldn't be a threat'. This was echoed
by another stakeholder who felt that the Council could improve on more specific
tailoring of bids to the topic in hand; there were far too many generic question
sets and not enough opportunity to respond to the detail of the topic. A further
respondent stated that 'if social value had been properly embraced, providers
would feel less threatened'. It was highlighted how contracts in smaller
packages would be of greater interest to VSCE and that there was a need to
keep pushing against the larger contracts. There was also a sense that the
contracts 'always go straight to the regulars', leading to queries about how
inclusive the measurement and procurement processes were. One further VSCE
executive felt that 'commissioning is warping the the sector, and it needs to
regain control'.
Competition from big contractors
It was felt that these organisations had the advantage of cash flow and could
undermine the value and importance of local organisations. Some expressed
the idea that the 'big contractors don't understand Cornwall', but another
respondent stated that the idea that 'only us small medium people' know how to
do things also needed to be challenged.
Large contracts, with payments by results
Whilst stakeholders acknowledged that payment by results was there to reduce
risk to Council, it was considered to be a big issue for organisations that have
used their reserves. Large contracts were considered exclusive and a threat to
the sector, particularly when large private firms come in. Ideally, we would see
a richer, more mixed economy of commissioning approaches.
Council does not understand VSCE sector
Very mixed opinions. Some agreed, some think this notion was 'overplayed',
some believe that there are excellent pockets of understanding, but this was not
across the board. The idea that 'volunteers don't come with a cost', was a
particular sticking issue. One respondent again reminded us that you can't
generalise and comment on 'the sector' as a homogenous body. It was also
suggested that the lack of understanding worked both ways: ' a lot of VSCE
don't understand the level of cuts and choices needed to be made'.
Organisations are too small, but barriers to consortia
Respondents did not agree that organisations can be too small, and in some
cases a smaller size helped to counteract 'middle management permafrost'.
Consortia were considered to be a good option providing they were very clear in
purpose and the barriers of entry to collaboration were reduced - possibly
through an 'off the shelf' model which groups could use. It was suggested that
funding would need to come through a 'bigger voice', which consortia could
provide. The fact that the ESF is now interested in Consortia bids was also
Staff mutualisation
Not considered to be a genuine issue by any of those interviewed.
Competition is valued over collaboration
Respondents did not agree this was the case, citing 11+ bid as an encouraging
illustration of greater forces of collaboration and that most organisations are
pro-collaboration. A warning was issued regarding the influence of market
forces leading the VSCE to prioritise the needs of the organisation over needs of
the people. A comment was made by one stakeholder that nowhere in the
interview was there a question about the actual quality of service and delivery as
experienced by the end-user.
Appendix B
Beyond Big Contracts: Commissioning public services for better
outcomes, Crowe et al 2015. Collaborate (London South Bank
Three trends noted:
1. Measurement: trend towards outcome-based commissioning, particularly
using payment-by-results elements. Likely to increase, but currently
output-based contracts are still the dominant commissioning model.
Lambeth Council’s Outcomes Framework for Children and Young People
cited as good practice. Big fall in grants. (Notes that outcome-based
commissioning does not always lead to a focus on meaningful outcomes
that relate to user needs, particularly in cases of multiple, complex
2. Risk and Innovation. Cuts and reductions in budget available to
commissioners has fuelled growth of contracting models that seek to
transfer responsibility for innovation – and thus the risk – to providers.
Creates a situation where commissioners are not concerned about social
sector delivery capability, but are much more worried about their capacity
to handle a complex commercial process and take and manage financial
risks. Squeeze on finances appears to be limiting the sort of radical
innovation needed to solve complex social problems and meet user needs.
3. Relationships. Structural changes beginning to fracture and break existing
relationships between commissioners, providers and service users. Multitiered supply chains – increases distance between commissioners and end
- users – threatens cross-sectoral collaboration – more difficult to meet
complex community and user needs. Consortia appear to be the sector’s
response and the way forward - 95% in their survey would consider
collaborating through a consortium or partnership for bidding for public
sector contracts in the future. Collaboration is on the increase.
National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA) Inquiry into the Future
of Voluntary Services. Fight or Fright, Voluntary Services in 2015: A
summary and discussion of the inquiry findings. Jan 2015.
Quite a depressing read. Warns about the privatisation of the sector
moving it away from its functions – unable to campaign or highlight
injustice whilst beholden to state for contracts or monetisation of human
need when delivered through private contracts.
P 14 Quote: ‘ G4S and Serco are not rushing to run food banks. The idea
of these fallback services, which are expected to be funded through
private philanthropy, public subscription or quasi business ‘social
investment’, ignores the deep structural causes of poverty.
P 18 Current commissioning and procurement practices viewed as unfit for
purpose and should be abandoned.
P5: Operationally, the mechanics of the procurement systems can impose
heavy burdens on VSGs. ….. Then successful bidders find themselves
having to cope with onerous contract and performance management
regimes. While the system is based on transferring risk from the
commissioner to the contractor, the former remains accountable through
micromanagement, onerous reporting requirements, issues about
ownership of records, or expensive indemnity insurance.
Social Enterprise UK (2015). Report supported by Santander.
Scale and Scope: 52% of SE’s increased turnover in past 12 months.
31% of SE’s working in the most deprived communities in the UK (doesn’t
say what they are doing there though)
Survey demonstrated that SEs operate in huge range of industries – from
automotive assembly to public houses, from medical diagnostics to
manufacturing beehives, form software developers to structural
engineers. Concentrated in certain areas:
Education (18%)
Business support/consultancy (17%)
Employment and skills (14%)
Retail (12%)
72% provide services, 13% mainly supply goods, 14% an even mixture of
goods and services.
73% of social enterprises earn more than 75% of their income from trade.
40% female led
31% have BAME directors.

Part B D16 VCSE SWOT 2015 Early Findings v2