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Posts Tagged ‘Voluntary Sector’

Good news for the voluntary sector, but don’t stop now

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

The Dormant Assets Commission reported last week that an additional £1bn to £2bn lies in old insurance policies, investment portfolios and pensions and can be released for funding the voluntary sector. This more than doubles the amount that has already been identified. 

The Dormant Accounts Act in 2008 provided for the collection and distribution of these forgotten funds. All the money so far has gone to Big Society Capital but Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson has already indicated that the new money could be used to “help good causes” in various ways.

First let’s put the numbers into perspective. The wonderful Comic Relief took 30 years to raise £1bn. Children in Need raised £46m last year. The Big Lottery Fund, far and away Britain’s biggest independent funder distributed £583m. All three are tremendously important funders of the third sector, particularly of smaller local organisations, but a dormant fund in excess of £1bn would be significantly bigger than all of them put together.  In the budget speech today the Chancellor will even announce to the nation government programmes with smaller numbers attached. There has already been much trailing,  for instance,  of an anticipated £320m for the expansion of the free school programme.

We congratulate the Minister for establishing this important Commission and we welcome its findings.

This, however, is only half the story.  I also want to make two other points:

First, the original arrangement was applied only to the small group of major banks included in the Merlin agreement – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS.  At the time Gordon Brown made clear the intention to first establish the process with the biggest players and then expand the scheme.  Seven hard years elapsed before the Commission was set up to explore the options in December 2015.  Throughout that time we pressed ministers, their shadows and their seniors, Manifesto groups, a party leader and a PM to, at the very least, take a look at the possibilities. I recalled repeatedly that £11bn was the number first discussed as the full potential of the scheme at the time of its inception. Back of a Treasury envelope, perhaps, and maybe overstated but even half that sum, harnessed to a programme for refuelling the voluntary sector, would have been a really substantial and eye catching government programme or manifesto pledge.

Why did no one listen for so long?  It’s not as if the sector has had more money than we needed in these recent difficult years.

Second, the Commission reporting last week was understandably cautious in its estimates and limited in its purview. £1bn to £2bn is a long way short of those early numbers. I think there is more money still yet to be unearthed. Much of it may be in smaller amounts, some of it might even be local and in unlikely places.  In London, for instance, £223m lies on dormant Oyster cards – the sort that most Londoners have, at some point, lost, replaced and forgotten. Suppose TfL spent a very generous £10m on a three month campaign promoting the reclamation of this money. I doubt if very much would be claimed but suppose we were left with just half. As we have pointed out to London’s Mayor you could do a lot of important work in London’s most disadvantaged communities with £100m.

And these are all schemes that keep on giving. Although the big numbers have accumulated over many years and will never be repeated, additional installments reach the deadline date every year.  The London Oyster pot, for example, rose by £53m between 2015 and 2016.  Once the reclamation procedures are in place the process will generate a more modest but regular yield year after year.

Let us be clear, none of this money belongs to the banks, the pension companies, TFL etc. It belongs to us. If it can’t be returned to the original customer it should be used for the common good. It should not be used to bolster numbers and generate interest on big corporate balance sheets.

It is, without doubt,  terrific news that a further £1bn plus will be flowing into the sector soon and I don’t mean to be a grumpy old man but, amidst the rightful welcome, lessons must be learnt: Pain could have been avoided if the opportunity had been responsibly explored a long time ago.  Let us not now endure another nine lean years before thoroughly exploiting ALL the possibilities.

Collaboration is the way forward for Voluntary Sector contract delivery

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

CollaborationAt the beginning of this year, we spent some time looking into the way public sector contracts are being issued, particularly the potential to  ease better collaboration between locally based community organisations.

Locality – the nationwide network of development trusts, community enterprises, settlements and social action centres – commissioned this work as a piece of consultancy with the aim of engaging  a group of members to develop a framework which would help the 93 London member organisations form better partnerships – which would, in turn, result in a more effective offer to service users. Combined, the 93 London members across 19 boroughs can leverage significant resources resulting in signficant impacts for local residents.

The commissioners of this study, Locality, were also  interested in the shifting public sector funding landscape; as highlighted in their 2012 member survey, grant funding is decreasing and contracts and other funding opportunities are increasingly being delivered at scale, where funders are actively encouraging voluntary organisations to form partnerships and contract delivery consortia.

To start, we systematically looked at public sector contracts tendered in a six-month period from August 2012 to January 2013. After filtering with the criteria of London contracts of a budget size £100,000 or over, we found 88 contracts that met our criteria. Analysis of these contracts confirmed what Locality members reported. The contract size ranged from £100,000 to £17 million with most hovering around £1 million  and  required multi-year delivery. Most contracts are being tendered by local authorities, and we noted an emerging trend of  local authorities collaborating to tender jointly. For example, there were several contracts tendered by Hammersmith and Fulham, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster City Council. This is in line with their aim of pooling resources to meet savings outlined in the Tri-Borough proposal   as part of the Whole Place Community Budget. Of the 88 contracts, about 20% are multi-borough and 36% are multi-service contracts. Many contracts specifically ask for consortium delivery bodies. We can see that the demand for collaboration between organisations is high.

In our consultation with Locality members, we found that these public sector contracts are very competitive;  smaller organisations are not likely to win these contracts individually, therefore they feel that tendering for these contracts is not an effective investment of time and resources. Additionally, most public sector contracts are so large in scale that smaller organisations are not really able to deliver the required work – or not able to scale-up quickly to meet the demand. These two main factors become a self-reinforcing cycle that puts smaller organisations consistently at a disadvantage in public sector contract delivery. This contributes to organisations having a lack of experience and preparedness in public contract bidding, negotiation, and management.

There certainly are benefits in collaboration. Members believe that collaboration is the key to increase the quality and impact of their programmes. However, with limited resources, members find collaborations difficult because of the time and commitment required on top of existing delivery demands.

Several different, well-established collaboration models have been documented and widely shared. We have listed these resources in our report. Our review of resources to design a collaborative framework includes a useful set of common principles for successful partnerships. Whilst these are not new principles, it is useful to remind ourselves from time and again:

  •  The right people for the right purpose
  • Strong commitment to collaborate (evidenced by time, resource, and structure devoted to support the partnership)
  • Shared vision, goals, and objectives
  • Clear division of roles and responsibilities
  • Effective and transparent communications
  • Mutual Trust and respect
  • Continuous nurturing
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Building capacity
  • Evaluation of the partnership model and relationships.

Locality  said “Community Links was well positioned to design a support framework for Locality to enable membership collaboration on public contracts because of their extensive experience and knowledge in this area and has delivered a strong piece of work that will benefit our members across London.”

You can find out more about the report and download a copy from the Locality website.



How important are values to the Third Sector?

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

In a blog a couple of years ago, Community Links’ co-founder David Robinson wrote the following:

On 4 February 1922 a peaceful march reached Chauri Chaura. The people were calling for self-rule in India and were part of the civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Police blocked their path. The marchers lost their patience. They chased the officers back to the police station, set fire to it and killed 22 people.

Gandhi was appalled and pulled back, suspending the non co-operation movement and saying that the country was not yet ready. For Gandhi the end did not justify the means. The two were inseparable. His position exasperated his allies but now, with the benefit of hindsight, historians can see that Gandhi’s moral certainty was the movement’s greatest strength – the source of its influence. He realised that, like any voluntary association, the movement would have been pointless without an unremitting commitment to fundamental values. They are the abiding moral core of any successful enterprise, constant and enduring.

Organisational objectives, in contrast, are not fixed forever but continuously updated, constantly stimulating, challenging and inspiring. Think for a moment about famous organisations currently in the public eye. How many seem to operate in the opposite mode, apparently unable to risk significant change in their day-to-day work but seemingly more flexible on the underpinning ethics?

Community Links has been promoting the role of values in the third sector for many years – in 2006 we published our report Living Values, encouraging boldness in third sector organisations, and last month NCVO published another report Values into Action (pdf) building on that work.

We all like to think that a value-driven approach sets the Third Sector apart from profit-driven business, but in reality what matters is how we put these values into practice. The report shows that values are vital, but that third sector organisations need to put some effort in to ensuring theirs are communicated, embedded in their work, and not eroded by powerful external constraints such as the need for funding.

Community Links has many years experience advising third sector organisations on how to think through and realise their values. We know how because we have done it ourselves, and you can find more information on our Consultancy and Training page.

Understanding your local area, hidden warts and all

Monday, December 7th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill was given royal assent, so becoming law. It does two things: firstly it aims to create more opportunities for local people to get involved in decision making; and secondly it gives local authorities a greater role in economic development, including requiring them to assess economic conditions in their area, produce a regional strategy in conjunction with the Regional Development Agency, and cooperate with other councils.

The requirement to assess local economic conditions has been of particular interest to Community Links, because we have carried out research into the informal economy in several London boroughs over the last few years and have increasingly realised its importance to local economies. We estimate up to 20% of people have worked informally, and the sector as a whole could be worth as much as 12% of GDP, or £120bn a year. We decided it was such a crucial yet under recognised issue that we set up our Need not Greed campaign to raise awareness.

So does this new act make it obligatory for Local Authorities to understand and include their local informal economy in their assessments and strategies? Well sort of. The legislation allows for local Councils to determine what they want to assess. It’s only the guidelines that suggest they think about all aspects of their local economy, including the informal economy. This is a shame, so just to highlight how important we think it is here’s an example.

In 2006 Haringey Council’s economic regeneration unit knew there was a gap in their knowledge. They knew people in Haringey must work cash-in-hand, because they’d come across individual cases from time to time. But they had no idea who was doing it, why, or how many, or how it impacted on the department’s work, and therefore it was barely considered in their plans. They asked Community Links to do some research, knowing that we’d done very similar research before, in other boroughs.

We quickly built up links with the Selby Trust, a well-respected local community organisation in Tottenham, who coordinated all the interviews. In talking to 2,600 people in Haringey we found that informal paid work was a significant part of the local economy, mostly in areas like catering, cleaning or childcare. The council used our detailed report to build the informal economy into economic regeneration strategies and activities so they better reflected the reality of life for people in the borough.

To find out what’s really going on in your area see the Community Links website or contact Aaron Barbour on 020 7473 9666 (dd) and

Londoners unite to tackle poverty

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Next Tuesday 1st December a coalition of anti poverty charities and organisations from around London, including Community Links, will meet to share successes and look ahead to next year. Stephen Timms MP for East Ham will open the event, but after that we’ll be hearing almost exclusively from activists and charities working locally around London, including from Community Links co-founder and local councillor Kevin Jenkins.

The event, being held in Stratford, is being organised by the European Anti Poverty Network London branch. The EU have declared 2010 the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (nothing like a snappy title), and this meeting is to allow London charities to start deciding what they can do throughout next year.

As well as Community Links, organisations participating will include the Migrants Resource Centre, End Child Poverty London, ATD Fourth WorldLeonard Cheshire Disability, City Parochial Foundation, and more. There will also be an exhibition of the charities’ work open to the public all day.

For more information, or to reserve a place, download the programme and booking form here

Volunteering whilst on benefits

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Accenture Volunteers @ Community linksAt Community Links we’ve always worked closely with volunteers since we started over 30 years ago.

 This is still very much the case today. Volunteers are vital, without them we would not be able to continue our work.

This picture shows a group of volunteers from the Accenture resources team at who Worked on a garden project alongside the young people at our New Canteen youth centre.

We provide volunteers with the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the community while gaining practical experience, skills and insights for themselves, which is why hundreds of volunteers get involved in all areas of our work including Children and Youth, LinksUK, and our social enterprises, including Auction My Stuff. In the last financial year alone (2206/07) 1,108 volunteers contributed 18,709 hours of their time to join us in championing social change.  If you want to get involved there are many opportunities to volunteer with Community Links. 

However, there is a problem for those people on benefits. Some face difficulties when volunteering. The main reason is that everyone (Jobcentre staff, benefit claimants and voluntary organisations) is unclear and confused about the exact nature of what the rules and regulations are in relation to volunteering whilst in receipt of benefits. Department for Work and Pensions regulations clearly state that if you are in receipt of benefits (Incapacity Benefit, Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support and others) you can undertake as much voluntary work, for as long as you like, and be paid reasonable expenses. We have written a short evidence paper which aims to clarify the regulations, and address how existing policy on benefit claimants who volunteer can be better implemented at an operational level. It builds on earlier research on volunteering by Community Links’ Social Enterprise Zone, and more recently by the Council on Social Action, as well as recent work by the Commission on the Future of Volunteering and The Morgan Inquiry.

Please download our new report ‘Volunteering Whilst on Benefits’.
It would be great to hear from you with your stories of volunteering whilst on benefits – please add a comment.

The rules of engagement

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Fools Gold Report CoverYesterday I attended the BURA _ British Urban Regeneration Organisation – “Rules of Engagement”event. I really liked the format – a half day “mini conference” with a diverse mix of short presentations and case studies. A fixed panel of three people from different sectors were present throughout and provided an intial response to each of the presentations to stimulate discussion from the floor.

A fascinating event, however there was never going to be enough time in half a day to answer questions posed by BURA’s Director of Research Dr. Gareth Potts in his opening remarks about the nature of “involving communities” A sliding scale from “Community Consultation”, “Community Engagement” and “Community Empowerment”  provided a useful guide.

The presentations illustrated some of the constraints on genuine community engagement in complex developments. The recent new economics foundation report on the London 2012 Olympics “Fools Gold” produced in collaboration with LinksUK addresses some of these unresolved questions, and has been covered in an earlier post here.

It was also good to re-connect at the event with Kevin Harris of Local Level, author of the Neighbourhoods blog, who contributed to our recent collection of essays “Making Links“. Kevin’s chapter, on the community of dog walkers in his local park, continues to be one of the most commented upon chapters in the book!

Independent on Sunday “Happy List”

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Cover Image: Britain's Everyday Heroes

As a counter to the annual Sunday Times Rich List, published over the weekend, the Independent on Sunday published their Happy List of “100 people who make Britain a better and a happier place to live”

It makes for an interesting read – not least because ten of the 100 are individuals whose stories featured in Britain’s Everyday Heroes. The book that Community Links worked on with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, published in July last year.

It’s a shame the book was not mentioned in the article! … but it is great that there is further recognition for ten of the people in the PM’s book:

I met each of these inspiring individuals – plus another 23  – whilst we were doing research for the book. The back cover copy refers to the PM “telling the stories of ordinary people whose willing commitment to a cause or a community has informed and inspired him. The stories tell of a real Britain neither flawless nor broken down but caring, innovative, passionate and determined.” I am a bit biased – but go on… buy a copy… it will make you happy!

Making Web 2.0 work for the Voluntary Sector

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

LinksUK blog buttonI attended an interesting event organised by the NCVO Publishers Forum before the Easter break.

Making Web2.0 Work For You was an introduction to Social Networking and online developments relevant to the voluntary sector.


As this blog takes off and we ‘learn-as-we-go’ I was grateful for lots of useful information and advice from early adaptors… which was all delivered with generosity and warm encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the sessions from Andrew Brown who blogs for the Drug Education Forum and Anne Welsh who shared some very helpful ideas about promoting publications online. 

The day opened with a scene setting presentation from Ian McClelland Turner Broadcasting’s director of Digital Media. It was great to get a view from a different perspective and it appears that the corporate, commercially-driven, multi-national, multi-platform big players are as new to the social aspects of the web as everyone else – still experimenting and seeing what might work longer term.

In typical voluntary sector style one of the workshops was on “Web2.0 for free” David Nolan of advised cash strapped organisations what is possible at low/no cost. 

It feels like an exciting time to be starting a blog. Engagement and experimentation with new communications tools will provide channels for Voluntary Sector and Community groups to do what they have always done – talk about their work and share ideas- but to do it in a more efficient and focussed way engaging in a dialogue directly with other interested practitioners and policymakers. … what do you think?