Warren Escadale, VSNW CEO, gives his early thoughts on the meaning of the Autumn Statement.
"I'm not giving credence to the newspapers' 'phew, it's a scorcher/end of austerity' description, as clearly that is just nonsense. I've reflected on the following:
- Devolution and the future of councils;
- Concern about the Office for Civil Society;
- The charity coin; and
- Investment in early intervention.
Devolution and the future of local councils Deal or no deal: devolution, and the expansion of the growth/reform formula, are coming to you! My recent presentation to One East Midlands is attached below and gives our thoughts on devolution.
Looking back on the Autumn Statement, I thought there was little mention of devolution. After all, we'd seen 38 devolution deal submissions in the build-up, and only news about Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands. I was wrong. In confirming the shift from grants to business rate retention for councils, it really couldn't have been a bigger Devolution Spending Review!
Self-financing councils, underpinned by council tax income (which is generally a far lower proportion of budgets in areas of deprivation e.g. 17% in Liverpool versus a national average of 40%), will mean local authorities will be necessarily focused on increasing business rates. Councils will be, and will have to be, the leading local economic agencies.
In turn, and alongside the additional 24% of cuts facing councils over the next four years, this will inevitably mean widespread roll out of large Combined Authorities (CA). Councils will need to formally take control of their local economies and learn how to juggle the effective geographies of economic strategy and of neighbourhood implementation necessary for increasing growth and reducing welfare cost (while continuing to be effective local leaders, supporting local communities).
The brackets are intentional. This is a fundamental shift for councils and if TS Eliot or Foucault had been interested in such things, they may well have described it as a disassociation of civic identity. Or... In Greater Manchester, because of the 10 local areas (assuming alignment of councils and CCGs), this is called the 10 + 1 model (of thinking, principle and delivery). The interests of the CA alongside those of the 10 localities.
The missing element in devolution, to date, is a coherent, connected, community strategy. A devolution strategy with devolution in its heart! And this is very much what we need, as a sector, to develop and what we, as VSNW and Regional Voices, intend to help develop.
Office for Civil Society
So, there are big challenges and opportunities facing our sector. A chance to redefine our purpose, show our worth and create something truly functional, community-centred, beautiful and life changing. Given this, we need a clear plan of investment in the sector's role championing communities, developing delivery models, facilitating greater community participation in health and social care, and connecting communities to effective economic development opportunities.
Amazing as the National Citizen Service and social investment can be, these are not investment strategies built around harnessing and catalysing sector potential, but about building from scratch. These are not sector-owned strategies or strategies that reflect what we could and must achieve on behalf of communities. From these strategies, you very well might not realise that there's a significant sector in the UK, that could provide big answers (like putting communities at the heart of devolution). The trouble is, it has gotten to the point where we're beginning to believe this too! I'm sorry to say this, but Office for Civil Society (OCS) policy around our sector has reached an all time low in investment, imagination, and practicality. There's lots of good reasons, and no doubt many our own fault, that outline how we got here, but this - right now - just can't be right.
We very much need an OCS with an effective third sector strategy and funding available for it! And we need to create the political space around OCS in order to help create this change.
I think, linked to defining "devolution", that there's a vitally important case for developing a newer, more emergent strategy for the sector that better fits what we, and our beneficiaries, need.
Sometimes it is hard to credit but we seem to have political capital; I won't say 'influence' as that would suggest that we control our own political capital. There were a number of things that were allowed to influence the Chancellor. IDS, tax credits, the state of social services, the views of the leader of Oxfordshire County Council and possibly the charitable sector: no lottery fund transfer, relatively minor effective cuts to the Charity Commission, lots of mentions for charities in the Chancellor's speech etc.
There is an emerging new take on our role in compassionate conservatism which means there's an opportunity, nationally, for us to make a new case for the future of our sector. I think a campaign based on getting simple messages to MPs based on the lessons from the VCSE Review should be a collective priority.
Where is the investment in early intervention? We've all talked a really good game on prevention and early intervention. Scientists, politicians, voluntary and public sector experts, neurologists, psychologists, parents, one and all. We did really well. We all agreed with one voice. And yet, not only are we not investing in this in any coherent tangible way, we're cutting any chance of it.
I know there are a number of really significant pilot programmes (new models of care vanguards, Well North, NHS England's social movement call), but these are relatively small scale. Even the Better Care Fund, with its upstream integration intentions, does not represent substantial investment. In contrast, the disinvestment in public health - the closest we have to early intervention, with its embedded understanding of community-centred approaches - makes it difficult to see how we can shift to medium and long term answers.
If the Office for Budgetary Responsibility anticipates significant further funding due to better than expected economic growth, please let's spend a good portion of it on early intervention, prevention and genuine demand management strategies and services."
We have also produced a briefing on the main Autumn Statement headlines for the voluntary and community sector and for local government