#VSNW16 Conference Round-Up: Community Powered Change

How will devolution transform communities? It won't, unless communities transform devolution!

Thanks to all delegates and speakers for a successful conference. It was at the excellent People’s History Museum in Manchester, a museum dedicated to the history of working people improving their lives. We thought this provided an excellent setting for the event (apologies if it was a little cold!)

If you missed the Storify collection of tweets from the day, you can view it on our Twitter. Thanks for the hundreds of tweets throughout the day - #VSNW16 was trending on Twitter!  

"People have a right to feel left behind, they have been left behind"

Jim McMahon MP, the Shadow Minister for Local Government, Communities & Devolution kicked off the event. While the Brexit vote showed people feel left behind, new ways for people to have more power and control need to be found – and the voluntary sector has a significant role to play here. Politics and public services should be redesigned, argued McMahon, and he challenged the sector to make sure this is grassroots led. ‘Don’t wait for permission – make devolution your own!’

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"Inclusive Growth isn't inclusive unless it's reducing poverty"

Next we heard from Professor Ruth Lupton, who is head of the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, a joint JRF and University of Manchester project to track social prosperity.  While ‘inclusive growth’ is now entering the mainstream, ‘it isn’t inclusive growth unless it is reducing poverty’, and there is still a long way to go to deliver a truly inclusive economy. Lupton highlighted many sector led initiatives that can help: using social value, fostering social enterprises and implementing the living wage are all good starts. What is measured, counts,and Professor Lupton argued the sector needs a visible, credible voice on the economy. More widely though, social policies should be seen as investment too.  

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As ever, we had a fantastic range of workshops throughout the day, delivered by colleagues from across the voluntary sector, public sector and think-tanks from the North West and wider, that gave attendees the chance to learn more about specific areas, and play a part in shaping policy, from Sustainability and Transformation Plans to social indicators.  

What does inclusivity look like? The theoretical and the practical

Delivering inclusive growth for communities was one theme for the day, and while CLES’s Matt Jackson had plenty of examples of ‘been and gone’ social projects, the economic development policy climate is changing, he argued. The voluntary sector used to be seen as an afterthought, but is now seen as a partner, and the centralised approach of the 80s, 90s, and 00s, is beginning to be replaced by place based approaches to local economic growth.

Professor Anthony Rafferty, also at the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, wanted to know how social success could be measured, and posed the question of whether it is better to use what data you have, or abandon it and seek new methods. Those present had the small workshop task of designing these to feed into the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit!

Brexit and the implications for the voluntary sector

EU funding has supported many social inclusion projects, and Gill Bainbridge from Merseyside Youth Association gave practical examples of her organisation’s programmes supporting young people into work, through a wide lens approach. Network for Europe’s John Hacking suggested that, while EU funding may not be around forever, it is likely to continue to 2022. Nonetheless, a complete loss of European Social Funding could mean over 21,000 people in Merseyside losing out on life-changing support.

Assessing the sector's role in Sustainability and Transformation Plans

Over a third of VCSE organisations in the North West are involved in health and social care, and this was a popular workshop theme at the conference. Frances Newell, a patient and public partnerships specialist at NHS England gave an overview of Sustainability and Transformation Plans in England. Given the key role they have in delivering the Five Year Forward View, the lack of sector involvement thus far was an issue that came up and is likely to again.

Alternative and new approaches to improving health and social care

A practical model for health inclusion was outlined by Chris Dabbs, Unlimited Potential and Francesca Archer-Todde, Big Life, who presented the findings from the Realising the Value person and community centred care research project.  

Ben Gilchrist, VSNW’s Social Movement lead, and Chris Easton from Tameside NHS talked about how wider approaches to improving health can be achieved, in the context of their Social Movements for Health project with the Greater Manchester cancer vanguard. If you’d like to know more about the project or be involved, do contact Ben Gilchrist.  

How can we ensure the disempowered are represented? Exploring 'what works' in the voluntary sector

Transforming the voluntary sector was the task of those in the Engine Hall, and we heard from a range of perspectives: Anne Lythgoe, Salford Council, covered investment strategies for the sector, while David Beel discussed the sector’s inclusion in urban governance, with learning from cities across England and Wales. Whether the current model of devolution is more like ‘central government localism’ was his question, but in any case it was useful to hear from members voluntary sector partnerships in Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester that have been spurred on by devolution processes, and have set out ambitious visions for their areas.

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Policy silos and linking up the economic and the social

Delegates got a chance to hear about the emerging findings of the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission from Jonathan Schifferes, who is the RSA’s Associate Director of Public Services and Communities. Schifferes spoke passionately about linking up social and economic policy, and asked why the only focus is on infrastructure projects such as HS2. The task of the Commission is to join up the silos, and inject ‘inclusivity’ into governmental policy, said Schifferes. Building a shared agenda – across the voluntary sector, public sector, business, politicians, and wider society, was certainly a message that came through strongly on the day.  

"Let's use the energy in this room - and capture it for social and economic ends"

The conference finished off with a panel discussion on how ‘communities can transform devolution’, and what the voluntary sector’s role is. We were pleased to hear from Kathy Evans, Cllr Sean Anstee, Conservative candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor, Hal Meakin, from Youthforia, Cllr Jean Stretton, the GMCA portfolio holder for fairness and equalities, and Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of CLES.

Although all of the panellists came from different perspectives, many of the points raised suggested shared sentiments: the current political climate is unprecented, unstable, and unpredictable; but there are reasons to be positive, with inclusive growth and devolution providing opportunities for progress. Much more needs to be done, and Hal Meakin argued that young people are currently being left out. It was clear from the discussion that policy over the past few decades has largely not improved lives for many in the North, and if 2016 is to be a critical juncture that ends positively, the voluntary sector and communities need to be driving change themselves.