Why is it always about money?
This week I had a conversation with a senior local government officer about the role of the not for profit sector and how we can lighten the load of public services. I was pushing on an open door. There is a real willingness I find now for public services to turn to the not for profit sector to help solve the increasing problems they face as statutory agencies.
But what started as a positive, productive discussion turned sour when it came to just how we can help. We all know the word “voluntary” does not equate to the word “free”. The service we provide at Citizens Advice needs money to survive. One of our unique selling points is that we offer a walk in face to face service on most high streets in our towns and cities across the county/IOW. Even with some sympathetic rates and sharing sites, costs exist not only for running premises but also back office functions. There are circa 1,000 volunteers working with us in Hampshire/IOW but again, supporting them are paid staff. So any discussion with partners will inevitability involve money. This leads to tendering in an ever increasing hostile third sector market. The way some charities behave would not be described as “charitable!!”
As the conversation moved on I discovered that letters had already been sent to public sector workers offering voluntary redundancy as a further 20% needs to be saved from next years budget. By 2020, the County is required to be self funding with no grants from Government. Core services are now being affected and this case lead to safety issues. The Guardian reports that in 4 years time there will be no grants for charities.
The biggest issue is that MORE money is needed not less. The number of people reaching old age is constantly growing, whilst the public sector is trying to “empower” residents to make their own choices about care in old age. In Hampshire there has been a 49.4% increase in those aged 65 or over and this trend is set to continue. The strain on the public purse will constantly grow.
This of course is an opportunity, but only if we can prove that what we offer helps to solve the problems the public sector face. So I think its a timely intervention by Citizens Advice to up their game to develop both our understanding of the impact we have on our clients but also provide the tools to gather that data so we can convince others of the worth of our service. If we can make the case for (that well known phrase) “value for money” then we will have the funds to continue to help the many thousands of people we see for years to come.