Volunteers’ efforts must be integrated into providing social services if impact of cuts is to be kept at bay, argues Calum Irving
THE post-Christie Commission landscape of public service reform and shrinking expenditure have forced all of us in the third- and public-sectors to rethink how we support, structure and deliver services to meet the needs of communities. This is a challenging period and has required a significant change in mindset, particularly around the role of the third sector.
That role – for charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises – must always be defined by those organisations, their memberships and trustees. However, in a new report from Voluntary Action Scotland, signs are emerging of how you can achieve change in public services by working with the third sector.
Our Impact Report illustrates how Scotland’s local third-sector infrastructure – known as third sector interfaces or TSIs (Voluntary Action Scotland members) – has developed beyond traditional roles into brokering social action locally to achieve change.
In purely numerical terms, the report charts impressive statistics: 76,000 enquiries, 10,000 organisations receiving often bespoke one-to-one support, training for 7,500 people and 14,000 young people accredited for their volunteering efforts.
But far more is being achieved. When a backdrop of parity of esteem with the public sector is achieved, when strong partnership working is in place and when public bodies are brave enough to bend public expenditure toward preventive, community-focused priorities, great things can happen.
One important policy area is Reshaping Care for Older People – or RCOP. In many instances, TSIs have brought third-sector groups together with the local council, NHS and private-sector providers to set out and plan changes then succeeded in achieving “sign off” to invest change fund money in a new set of expenditure patterns that give third sector organisations a bigger role.
The role of Voluntary Action North Lanarkshire (VANL) in the RCOP programme is an example of the importance and impact of a strong local third-sector infrastructure.
The North Lanarkshire RCOP programme combines the expertise of partners including NHS Lanarkshire, North and South Lanarkshire councils, the independent sector and of course, the third sector, to improve services for people over 65. Along with other RCOP partner agencies, VANL sits on all Strategic Groups across the region and has a say in the decision-making process. RCOP seeks to make the most of community resources to re-shape care. VANL takes a leading role in making this happen.
According to Kenny Moffat, chief executive at VANL, there is immense value in involving the views of the communities and third sector in any development. He highlights the strong partnership in North Lanarkshire, with shared mutual respect with the NHS, local authority and independent sector partners. This, he says, “allows the third sector to represent those local views and to have them highly regarded and considered when developing policy.”
Allison Smith, development manager of North Lanarkshire Carers Together, a key partner of VANL in the RCOP programme, supports this, saying: “Through our involvement with VANL, carers have had the opportunity to influence the development of local services for older people and their carers. VANL’s approach has enabled a wide range of third- sector organisations to work in partnership with statutory services to consider the shift in the balance of care and how we connect with older people and their carers within our community.”
And Sandra Mackay, RCOP programme manager at North Lanarkshire Council, reiterates the impact of the local Third Sector Interface, describing the contribution of VANL to the RCOP agenda over the past two years as substantial, particularly in developing a comprehensive approach across all agencies and sectors in all six localities. She adds: “This approach is now having a clear impact for older people and their carers in the way they are more connected to their local communities and having a quality of life.”
Scotland’s Third Sector Interfaces will always want to fulfil the extremely important traditional functions of supporting local voluntary groups and charities, social enterprises and volunteers. Increasingly, however, our Impact Report demonstrates that investing in local third-sector infrastructure can help build vital relationships locally, make new approaches to delivering services into a reality, help organisations cope with change and make national agendas, such as improving care for older people, have an effect on the ground.
Against a backdrop of continued austerity for the public sector, now is not a time for caution.
Public bodies might find if they invest in and support their local Third Sector Interfaces and wider third sector that relatively small investment can achieve better outcomes for the communities the third- and public-sector have at heart.