Adult Education – A chance for charities to take part in commissioning

The Adult Education Budget for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is moving to the Combined Authority (CA) from next April. They have now started the process about how provision will be procured and if you want a slice of the pie don’t drink too much over New Year as you will need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed on 2nd January to start looking at making your application.

We here at CCVS are still getting our heads round how all this will work having attended a recent workshop, but fair to say it is not only us with the new CA admitting that they have been on a steep learning curve over the last eight months. There are a couple of sets of slides from the recent workshop that we will make available if we get them, and anyone who is thinking of bidding will need to get to grips with the CA skills strategy which is yet to be published, but more info on the priorities etc can be found here.

UPDATE. This page now contains copies of the slides from the presentations as well as a summary of the questions and answers from both workshops.

The timetable for this is, in the words of the CA

“We now intend to publish our SSQ and ITT on Wednesday 2 January 2019, following which will be a 38-day tendering period, closing on Friday 8 February 2019.

Evaluation of all SSQ’s and ITT’s will take place in February/March with contracts being awarded in early April.

Second Market Engagement Workshop – Early December 2018

Standard Selection Questionnaire and Invitation to Tender issued – Early January 2019

SSQ and ITT deadline submission date – Early February 2019

Evaluation of tender submission – February/March 2019

Contract award date – Early April 2019

Full AEB devolution – August 2019″

The budget for 2019-20 will be around £12.1 million. Of this around £9 million will go to the main provides, predominantly the big colleges. This leaves around £3 million for more local provision. That will be what this procurement round will be for. We think there may also be some small grants as a tender to run a programme was released but this is not guaranteed, we will keep you updated on this as we can.

What we gleaned from our workshop, this was what we heard and will need to be clarified if you want to bid.

  • There will be about £3 million available to tender for
  • There will be no minimum or maximum contract size (update there will be a £50K minimum now)
  • The process will involve formal online tendering
  • Although you will be bidding for 1 year this will decide the delivery partners for the next 3 years. If you don’t get in now there will not be another window for at least 3 years.
  • There will be an emphasis on accredited training, but if what you do is pre accreditation level or you use successful unaccredited training to move people on then there will be some weight given to this – but not lots from what we heard
  • The new team want to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. Importantly if you do apply and are unsure ring them do not make assumptions.
  • The process will be by the book, do exactly what they ask and do not try and simply bend the application to fit your work, it will not score well.
  • They are open to consortia bids, but please talk to them first. This is partly because they are putting a 20% cap on what can be outsourced.
  • There are likely to be separate priorities for Cambridge, Peterborough and the rural bits in-between.
  • The funding criteria and I assume cost per learner are not set by the CA, they are using national guidelines.
  • This will be quite an onerous application process so if you going to do it start early, there will be no extensions.
  • If you are successful you will be subject to the audit rules for this funding, this will include recording information on the Individual Learner Record (ILR), make sure you think about admin within any budgets.

One of the advantages of this move to the CA is that it may well have allowed additional money to be drawn into the area and this money will not be clawed back if there is a year 1 underspend. That said they are still looking at how they deal with possible underspends.

The other key advantage is that they appear to be starting from scratch, and the long tail of old providers have to join the party anew. This means that we should be able to address the fact that many local providers were not able to get a foot in the door. That said those who were at my event included people from Suffolk, from Boston, a national org based in Hemel Hempstead, from People Plus formally A4E and a number of other national providers.

My one concern was about the weight given to social value and the Social Value Act. I felt that the answer to my question on how this would be taken into account was vague with a reply that there was a question about it in the ITT but no idea on weighting. I have not been impressed about how any of the local commissioning has addressed social value, but we will have to wait to see if it would score extra to be a local provider using local people to deliver locally etc. We will be pushing the CA to give due consideration to the Social Value Act so that local non profit providers are given the extra makes for all the added value they bring.

We are not the experts on this but we are happy to have a conversation with anyone with any questions. That said the CA stressed how approachable they are so maybe go directly to them.

Civil society futures

After two years it has finally arrived along with more blogs than I can count. But what does it mean?

Read the final reports here.

My initial thoughts is that we are shouting into our bubble and as such that there is a real danger of this becoming what Karl Wilding of NCVO calls shelfware

They talk about civil society, and do a good job of explaining this, but is it a concept that any outside our bubble understand and relate to. There is a lot to be commended in the report and it has tried to take a much more holistic view of what people think, it deserves to make a difference, and if it doesn’t it is probably because there is too much in it, but also because it is not something that will resonate with the pubic.

Whilst this is aimed at how Civil Society needs to change and adapt it can not do this in isolation, and other sectors need to think about how they interact with us. If the impact that the government Civil Society Strategy had on the recent budget are anything to go by then we have a problem.

If people and civil society organisations are to have power then power has to listen and yet they even dismiss the work of the United Nations when it says something they don’t like.


You have to wonder what chance the rest of us have in making a difference and righting societies wrongs without resorting to civil disobedience, which the report recognises as a legitimate form of ‘people power’ but is obviously not for everyone.

The section on identity has to be key, there is a sub report about race and I believe that we need to look class as well. But more than this we also need to look at how we deal with differences that aren’t simply down to class but are down to inequality as we see so dramatically in Cambridge where different wards have a ten year life expectancy difference. The report puts civil society at the forefront of bringing together different tribes, and I wonder if this is the norm for many groups. Too often we congregate towards ‘people like us’ and this can be seen in local groups, especially in areas that have a more homogenous population. Organisations need to find ways to embrace difference and make people welcome, many do, but many don’t because it does not occur to them.

“It creates the space for the fact that you and I have completely different lifestyles and ideas, but it doesn’t stop us doing certain things together.” (Peckham community workshop)

We have to acknowledge that differences have been growing and that Brexit has played a big part in this. But so have our politicians and the press and what civil society tries to mend can easily be broken by others. If Civil Society is to bring people together it will take time and will need to ensure others aren’t sabotaging things.

The report talks about how organisations overcome selfishness

“Me instead of we. We all build our own little empires, we all have our own little gates at the front of our houses.”   (Epsom and Ewell community workshop)

“We’re pushed further apart by competition for smaller resources and a desire to find our uniqueness, not our common ground.” (CEOs of Youth Organisations Conversation)

“We’ve got to get away from this every man for himself business.”  (Shirebrook community workshop)

This becomes harder as funds for small organisations dry up, and we see bigger contracts that exclude small local delivers in favour of big regional/national delivers. Despite this we have to find ways to come together, by doing so we can provide more holistic services or more engaging services. Local Infrastructure has a role in helping facilitate this. Lots has been touted about big charities helping small and I wonder if the disconnect between the largest and the majority is just to big. From a CCVS point of view we certainly echo this part!

“There is an awareness that ‘anchor organisations’ are required to locate activity in and coordinate activity from. Infrastructural support also helps to nurture small community organisations that can engender the trust of the community and be accountable to them. The lack of local linking organisations, such as local Councils for Voluntary Service (CVSs), leaves many groups disconnected from each other and operating in silos. Battles over scarce resources can turn people against those who ‘are not like us’. Facilitation is required to bring different groups together so that people can get to know the diverse groups and shared challenges that make up their communities, ensuring that these groups can work together to be more effective.”

There is much more detail in the report and much of it makes sense and will resonate with those involved in small charities and community groups. The report covers some big issues but I missed the recognition of the diversity in the sector, and the fact that there are organisations that do so many different things, things that do not necessarily seem big in the Civil Society sphere but they really important.

The report does not end with the usual recommendations but comes up with its PACT in their words “It is intended to support us all to thrive in the future, and to build on the very best existing initiatives across civil society.”

The pact covers

  • Power
  • Accountability
  • Connection
  • Trust

They see this as a map and I really quite like this. Whilst some of the narrative focuses a bit on the big changes we would like to see happen in society, and that might be the purview of some organisations but doesn’t sit with most small organisations, at least not as a primary purpose.

The PACT has some thoughts on how we can change, and this call for change is key. I think the need to change as a movement (if we are one) and as organisations is one we need to embrace, and generally we do that. How useful these maps will be to organisations will be dependent on the organisation, what it does and who is involved. As a society we have to address these issues and have to address the causes of problems that create bigger rifts, that is not necessarily a role just for civil society (however that is defined), it has to include politics and media as well as business.

I really hope this report does make a real impact but I don’t think it will. I think that real life will get in the way for most organisations, I think that changing society needs more than just us. I do think that there are things for organisations to learn, and I think this will make steps to improve society. If some organisations become more welcoming and diverse then that will reap benefits. If some organisations help people find their voice and take control then that is only for the best. If we can be open and increase trust this will bring benefits for the organisation and those involved with it.

If because of all these small changes we make society more equal, if these small changes reduce conflict, if these small changes bring people together, if these small changes empower people to take action then maybe I will be proved wrong.

Cambridge Community Safety Partnership (CSP) July 2018

ccsp-logoSome thoughts on the meeting held on 17th July 2018. Firstly, you can find out more about the work of the CSP on the City Councils website, and you can download the papers here. These meetings are generally open to the public, but there are never crowds so you can always find a place!

This meeting was a little different as we had a report on a Domestic Homicide Review. You can find out more about what a DHR is here, but in essence it is

“A Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) is a locally conducted multi-agency review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by:

  • a person to whom he or she was related, or with whom he or she was or had been in an intimate personal relationship; or,
  • a member of the same household as himself or herself.

DHRs were introduced by section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (DVCA 2004) and came into force on 13 April 2011.”

The report from this will be made public once the process has been completed, but safe to say if we never have to do another of these that would be fantastic. There is lots of help for those who are victims of domestic abuse, and for those who have concerns. A good place to start when looking for help is the Domestic Violence Helpline.

The rest of the meeting followed its usual pattern of extremely thorough reports and opportunities to look at how partners could be involved. Some of the highlights.

  • The CSP will be bidding with others in the county into a pot of money that has been recovered from criminals. It would be good to look at how voluntary groups may be able to access this in the future and we will be meeting to investigate this.
  • There is a growing aim of joined up working to look at issues within the City Centre. To begin with the area needs to be defined as do the priorities. The key learning was that communication with other groups needs to be improved and that communication with the public would also help to reduce crime and fear of crime.
  • The annual report and the updated terms of reference for the CSP were accepted. The annual report will be published on the City website, but the draft can be seen as part of these papers.
  • The work to align the CSP in the City with the one in South Cambs and with the two Living Well area Partnerships is ongoing. The next CSP meeting will be joint with the South Cambs one. Whilst CCVS attends all of these so reducing meetings will be of benefit to our sanity, I do wonder if this is feasible. There are undoubtedly some areas of overlap that could be addressed jointly but there are significant local issues that it would be wrong to lose sight of.

We are happy to answer any further questions that may arise. We are also always eager to hear from organisations who have an interest in issues around community safety so that we can take concerns etc. to this meeting.

What future for voluntary sector support organisations?

There has been no end of commissions and reports released in the last year that look at the future for support organisations such as CCVS and the wider sector. These have looked at all aspects of the sector and how it needs to adapt in order to thrive in the future. CCVS along with our partners in Huntingdonshire and East Cambs have produced a report on our annual survey called More for Less. This blog is my Graphic 1 introextension of the forward and includes the conclusions and commitments that feature in the report. We believe there is a future for support organisations, but that we need to change and adapt (as ever!).

So what are some of the key issues as I see them?

There is a lot that is pertinent to us as support organisations included in the summary from the final report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector. For four years this body has chartered what it sees as ‘worrying and growing threats to the independence of the sector.’ The Panel identified six specific challenges to independence, which it has monitored annually since 2012. A summary of their concerns, includes

  • Loss of the sector’s distinctive identity and respect for independencehenry quote
    Verdict: this continues to get worse.
  • Threats to independence of voice
    Verdict: this has worsened every year since they have been monitoring independence.
  • Lack of consultation
    Verdict: this has worsened every year since they have been monitoring independence.
  • Unsupportive statutory funding and contracting arrangements
    Verdict: After reporting a declining picture up until January 2013, they have seen no significant improvement in recent years.
  • Ineffective safeguards and regulation
    Verdict: this continues to get worse.
  • Threats to independent governance
    Verdict: their concerns remain the same as expressed in 2012, with no sign of improvement.

It is important that we as infrastructure organisations, with a role to act as a voice of the sector, do all in our power to mitigate this erosion of independence at a local level.
It is hard enough for our members to grow and prosper without having to worry about outside interference.

The operating environment for the sector is not getting any easier, as Carol Rudge from Grant Thornton points out in the forward of their Charity Governance Review 2015

“2014 was another challenging year for UK charities, with many facing the twin pressures of uncertainty over funding combined with increasing public demand. … for the first time, the availability of future funding is the most common risk cited in trustees’ reports, overtaking recession-related risks.
Allied to future funding worries, the sector is also negotiating a more complex operating environment.”

At the same time as this there is an on-going issue of trust, with Nfp Synergy reporting that

“Public trust in charities has fallen for the first time since 2011. 56% of people now trust charities ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’, compared to 66% in 2013”

trust for charities

There is an on-going need for organisations like ours to help the sector navigate the choppy waters of funding, contacts and sustainability. But we also have to get better at helping the sector to promote what it does, to show the positive impact its work has on real people and to show that the ‘fat cat’ chief executive is not something that exists in local voluntary organisations. The small organisations that we work with are vital glue that binds communities together, these organisations have faced particular challenges, but have continued to deliver services to those who need them. The Nfp synergy state of the sector 2014 report sums this up nicely.

“Despite being more likely to have seen decreases in income, small charities were more likely than larger charities to have provided more services and less likely to have cut them”

There is a need to enable groups to identify, win, and manage funding that will help them deliver their aims in a way that is best for them, and best for those they work with. This needs to include work with funders and others to ensure that all groups have  access to funding that is appropriate and that does not carry a disproportional burden of reporting.

As the sector gets on with its role of helping those who are most vulnerable and most marginalised it is doing so in an environment that is getting ever more unequal, and ever more divided. As Mark Easton points out in the ESRC Understanding Society Insights 2014SAINTS-SCROUNGERS

“Our national conversation is shaped by the daily news media. However, news editors tend to reflect the interests, anxieties and prejudices of their readers, listeners or viewers. The concerns of those less likely to consume daily news are less likely to feature. Consequently, our national conversation – the narrative which underpins the democratic process – has a built-in bias towards middle class apprehension and away from the challenges facing the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

In a hard hitting set of reports the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA) sums up much of this by stating

“Overall, the environment for service-providing voluntary organisations is increasingly difficult, hostile and getting worse:
• for the people for whom they provide services and undertake activities;
• for the scope and quality of the services they provide;
• and for their own independence and self-determination in these matters.”

There is a growing need for us as support organisations to help members and the wider sector to speak up for themselves and for the work that they do, as well as for those that they work with.

The NCIA went even further, and had some criticism of support organisations that delivered services often in competition to members, and also in the complicity of support organisations and the wider sector in the erosion of independence and services.

“Many VSGs and their leadership bodies have responded to pressures of co-option by the State and the private sector in complicit and supine ways, failing to defend their autonomy or show active solidarity with their users and communities.”

When the whole world is silent, even oneAs the voice and leadership of the sector it is essential that we look at what our role is in promoting the type of society we aspire to through our vision, mission and values.

The future is uncertain, and there is no obvious indication of things getting significantly better in the coming years. But there will continue to be a need for voluntary organisations, people will continue to ‘band together’ to help improve their own lives and the lives of others. To help this to happen there will continue to be a need for support, and as NAVCA reported in their Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure

“infrastructure will be needed in some form as long as people come together to form voluntary organisations and community groups. But the infrastructure of the future is likely to be a much leaner enabler, broker and catalyst rather than necessarily a deliverer.”

successThere are challenges ahead for the sector and for us. Whilst the environment that the sector is working in may be difficult there is no doubt that organisations will continue to offer services to everyone. The sector will continue to have a significant and positive impact on the lives of individuals, and will continue to innovate in order to meet the challenges of the future. CCVS will continue to look at the services we provide, our survey helps to highlight what is needed but also tells us that we must be doing something right as most groups are extremely or very satisfied with the services they receive. But we can not sit back and be complacent.

  • We have a duty to be scanning the horizon to help spot change and inform members of what is happening and what it means to them.
  • We have a duty to use our place at the many tables at which we represent the sector to influence how partners view the sectors work, and how the sectors needs can best be met as changes are planned, developed and implemented.
  • We have a duty to ensure that the best outcome for the sector and those with whom it works are included in new delivery regimes.

In addition to this we have a role to help organisations adapt and prosper under the new regimes; giving them the skills, the knowledge and the tools they need to grow and remain sustainable.

Conclusions and Commitments from More for Less the 2015 Survey of the Voluntary Sector in Cambridgeshire

For Cambridgeshire the squeeze on voluntary and community groups is similar to that happening in the rest of the country. More is being delivered for less in most cases, and where groups are expanding they are expanding into delivery areas that were previously the reserve of local authorities. Our sector faces a rapidly changing environment with demand increasing and funding in decline. CVS5 believes that good leadership that enables, empowers and develops our local communities is vital if we are to maintain and develop the effectiveness of our sector.

In light of this for the first time we have decided that we will include a list of commitments that CVS5 aspire to. Each CVS will respond in a different way, and look at the key areas of improvement to their services based on their capacity, resources and the needs of their members.

Training and Support

  1. We will continue to build on our existing training offer to ensure we are offering the training groups want, and ensure smaller groups have the skills, systems and confidence they need.
  2. We will look at ways to help groups increase their income and give them the skills and tools to help them demonstrate the impact of their work.
  3. We recognise the importance of trustees and the role they play in organisations. We will ensure that training is available at the most appropriate times and locations.
  4. We will look to increase the level of training and support we give to smaller groups to ensure they have the skills, systems and confidence to manage their money and complete financial reports.

Networking and Communications

  1. We will provide a range of networking opportunities where organisations can, share ideas and discuss common issues. These will ideally be face to face but we will also explore online networking opportunities.
  2. We will improve our communications in order to ensure that organisations get the information they want in a timely manner and in a format that suits their needs.
  3. We will look at providing themed networking and communications in areas such as health, community safety, mental health etc.

Representation and Understanding

  1. We will continue to provide strong leadership that enables, empowers and develops our communities
  2. We will improve our two way dialogue to ensure that we are best able to meet the sectors needs and make the sectors case where ever we attend meetings.
  3. We will work to better understand the differences in the sector based on geography, theme of work and size of organisation

The £10 million poisoned chalice – and the rush to drink anyway….

alms to the poor Once upon a time the overlords of the people decided to reward hard working communities with a small pot of funding, a friendly fairy godmother saw this and happily agreed to double this money and help communities to spend it wisely. Despite the overloads only setting aside the minimum amount of funding, this still amounted to a small fortune as far as the people were concerned. They wondered at what amazing work they could do to make people’s lives better, to improve learning and to reduce poverty. For to them £10 million was a truly wondrous bounty. Then reality kicked in and everyone realised it was European funding. They came to realise that it was not going to be that easy for the people to get their hands on the cash….. By now many of you will have heard that the latest round European funding has been announced, and you may even have found the calls for proposals on the government website. You may well have heard that the Big Lottery is matching funds. You may well have attended meetings to find out more, and you may well be thinking about how you can use some of the money. I believe that we need to stop and think about some of the issues before we all enter the bun fight / beauty parade. (My thanks to Big Society Funding who are our regions recipients of lottery funding to promote the ESF funding to the sector for some of this information). What are my issues?

  1. This is not a done deal yet. According to the government website “We expect the ESF and ERDF Programmes to be agreed by June this year.” That said it will more than likely be signed off by the new government unless something very strange happens at the election.
  2. This funding is for the Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGPLEP) area. This covers a very wide area. Whilst projects will not have to cover the whole LEP area they will have to work across a significant part of it, possibly with a greater focus on Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Rutland as they are not in other LEP areas.
  3. The Big Lottery is indicating they want to see minimum grant sizes from £1/2 million (although this may well have been doubled according to the last meeting I attended). This means that most voluntary organisations will not be able to lead a bid or bid on their own.
  4. There is an expectation that voluntary groups will form partnerships to bid for the money with lead partners who have the financial muscle to take on significant funding. Given the need to cover large areas, and the complexity of managing this type of partnership I can not see partnerships with more than five or six members being feasible.
  5. Lead partners will be expected to be able to show they have the financial history to manage this type of funding. This may well preclude newly formed consortia bidding without the need for a lead partner.
  6. This is still EU funding so the reporting and risk issues will not disappear. According to Big Society Funding Big Lottery will take on some of the risk and will ensure that this money is a grant. There will still need to be usual record keeping and monitoring as the lottery will have to report back.
  7. There is only £9,928,620 available across the whole region for 6 years. When you think about this it is not a lot. If you remove 15% for management costs which will go to lead partners this leaves £8,439,327. If this is split evenly across all LEP districts (which it won’t be) this would be £703,277 a district. If this runs over the five remaining years of the ESIF programme it means £140,655 per district per year. Suddenly the funding does not look as exciting. Larger organisations would be better off putting in a Reaching Communities application that would be more focused and easier to manage and report on etc.

So if the work you do fits the proposed criteria of Barriers to Work, Financial Inclusion and Social Isolation and Poverty; and you are up for partnership working; and you feel you can manage European funding (even with the help of the Big Lottery and a lead partner) then you need to find out more. I suggest that you look at the following websites.

I suggest that you read the GCGP LEP strategic economic plan as it sets down the priorities for work in this area. (or maybe the summary) I suggest that you complete this pro forma to register your interest that Big Society Funding are collecting and sharing. I suggest that you attend one of these events

CCVS will keep attending meetings and are there to help with any questions you might have, or to try and link you up with partners. We would dearly have loved to see the lottery involvement translate this funding into a small grants programme but that was never on the cards. We would have loved to see the funding going to groups that were working at the grassroots making a real impact, and while some of you will benefit from this funding it is not for everyone. Remember we are there to help you identify suitable funding opportunities so do drop us a line.