Budget – crunch time in more ways than onePosted on 22nd February 2012 by Jo Crease
Brighton & Hove City Council will make final decisions on its budget for 2012-13 next week, and the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum is calling for the protection of front line services and warning against ‘salami slicing’ of budgets. Valid and important points, but there’s more to this story – what the sector needs to do to respond to a very different environment.
The voluntary sector in the city has become fragmented and divided, with history, personalities and old disagreements at risk of being bigger than the problems we’re trying to tackle. We simply can’t justify having, for example, 15 organisations providing infrastructure support (help with setting up or running your organisation). There are numerous examples where the city has two, three or even more organisations all addressing the same issue in slightly different ways in slightly different geographical areas, with slightly different approaches and intentions.
What has struck me since I started working in this sector in Brighton last year has been that we have more in common than we have differences. But this won’t be the case for long, if organisations refuse to work in greater partnership, to jointly deliver contracts, develop shared back-room functions such as finance or HR, or consider co-location and mergers as serious options, then we will find ourselves too small or too niche to compete against larger organisations, organisations from outside Brighton, or private providers. The local authority and the health service are absolutely entitled to be asking serious questions about value for money and duplication of services – they have less funding themselves than ever before. If we don’t have a good answer to these question then we have little right to expect local government to support our development more generally – salami sliced or no.
It’s not all moan and groan though, honest. The Brighton & Hove ‘Transforming Local Infrastructure’ programme (PDF 42K, opens in new tab), which was recently awarded £300,000 by central government to tackle exactly this question over duplication and fragmentation of service, has a golden opportunity to demonstrate how to approach ever closer collaboration. The key partners must be 100% committed and 100% focused on what is actually needed by those that use our services, not what they want to protect from within their own organisations. Impetus is a key partner in the programme and this is the approach that we are committed to taking throughout.
Another excellent opportunity for the sector is the fledgling South East Wellbeing Consortium, which is a vehicle to allow organisations to retain their independence, but to group together to jointly bid for funding to provide more effective, more streamlined frontline services. Which is, after all, what we all want. Isn’t it?