Bubb urges government to go 'full throttle' on public service reform
29th September 2011
Sir Stephen Bubb has given a speech to ACEVO members in Manchester promising to fight the corner of third sector leaders facing disproportionate cuts, and urging the Government to go 'full throttle' on public service reform. The full text of his speech is below.
SIR STEPHEN BUBB SPEECH TO ACEVO NORTH CONFERENCE; 29 SEPTEMBER 2011
A WAKE UP CALL - 2012 IS CRUNCH TIME
"I know that for many of you this has been a really tough year. Over the past twelve months, our sector has been hit with funding reductions of unprecedented severity, and hundreds of ACEVO members have experienced cuts during this time.
Of course, we all knew twelve months ago that the sector was entering a challenging period. But there is clear evidence that many of the cuts being imposed by local government are falling disproportionately heavily on the voluntary sector. No local council saw its spending power fall by more than 9% this year- yet this year's ACEVO pay survey shows that in more than a third of cases, our members experienced cuts of 20% or greater to their public funding.
The fact that you continue to deliver vital services of such outstanding quality is testament to the sector’s strength, resilience, and commitment to serving the most vulnerable people in society.
But we need to be clear: next year is going to be even tougher. Last month the Local Government Chronicle published a survey of 338 local authority CEOs and senior managers, revealing that 65% expect next year’s cuts to be more difficult than this year’s. This chimes entirely with what I have heard during discussions with local government representatives- and it should be a wake-up call for all of us. April 2012 is crunch time for our sector.
We must be in no doubt about the damage that will be done if our sector falls victim to a second year of disproportionate cuts. Funding cuts have already forced ACEVO’s members to reduce service levels in 32% of all cases, and to make staff redundant in 41% of cases. Our smaller members were particularly hard hit, with those answering the ACEVO pay survey facing on average a 27% decrease in their income from public funding. How many will struggle to stay afloat in the face of even steeper settlements next time around? A second year of ‘more of the same’ will have a devastating impact on the irreplaceable services that our members provide all over the country. The message is clear: the vulnerable and most in need will be put at risk if the third sector continues to be seen as a soft target for disproportionate cuts.
ACEVO IS READY TO FIGHT YOUR CORNER
Be assured, however, that ACEVO is ready to fight our members’ corner on this issue.
We fought hard to get DCLG to issue Best Value Guidance for local councils on avoiding disproportionate cuts to voluntary sector organisations.
We are pushing hard for councils to be required to publish how much they spend on third sector organisations, and the government has told us that this will happen. We will continue to press the Government to act on this now, so that the measure is available to us to use in the coming round of cuts. I have written to Greg Clark on precisely this point today.
And make no mistake: ACEVO will be ready and prepared to use these levers to hold authorities to account on the commitments we have fought for. If councils makes disproportionate cuts to voluntary organisations not because it's what's best for local people but because it's the easy thing to do, we will now be ready to make those councils explain their decisions not just to the organisations affected, but to the Local Government Ombudsman and to public opinion as well.
We are determined to make sure that our members, and the thousands of people who rely on our members’ services, get the fair deal that they deserve.
And in that vein I am also clear that ACEVO's services need to help you to be ready for the challenges ahead. This is my top priority. If you have any views on how we can change or improve our services to help us do that, then I want to hear them.
PARTNERSHIP WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
So far I have sounded rather bellicose, as if I see ACEVO's job as being simply to bash councils who make cuts to our sector.
And I will be bashing councils who target the third sector disproportionately. I make no apology for that.
But I am also clear that there is huge potential for local councils and third sector organisations to work together in managing cuts, and ensuring the communities we both care passionately about are protected as far as possible.
Most councils know that doing things differently has to be central to how they manage cuts in spending. Many want to work more with the third sector, not less - to make use of its expertise, flexibility, capacity for innovation and relationships with communities and service users.
Across the public service arena and across the welfare state, we can see examples of charities producing an extraordinarily high level of return on investment. Take the St Giles Trust, whose ‘Through the Gates’ programme reduces reoffending by 40% by supporting offenders as they reintegrate into society. That produces savings of between £10 and £34 for every pound invested. Or take the example of Addaction, a charity which addresses the needs of families in which parents abuse drugs. 80% of families involved in their ‘Breaking the Cycle’ programme significantly reduce their use of drugs or alcohol, saving the state £11 for each pound spent within a timeframe of just eight months. It is this kind of innovative, radical partnership between the third sector and the state that can simultaneously improve lives, protect the vulnerable, and save the country money.
So countless councils will be seeing the third sector as part of the solution. We have to help them make it happen- and open the eyes of those who have not yet seen the light.
ACEVO will be working with a number of local councils and representative bodies to carry through this agenda.
FULL-THROTTLE PUBLIC SERVICE REFORM
But it’s not only local government that has a vital role to play. If spending cuts are not to result in worsening outcomes for the most vulnerable, then we must go full-throttle on public service reform. If you take £81 billion out of public services, you either need transformative reform, or the most vulnerable pay.
Tomorrow is the last day for submissions to the government’s listening exercise on the Open Public Services White Paper.
So the time for warm words is over. It's time to put them into practice.
This means taking the principles set out in the White Paper- the principles of diversity, of choice, of transparency, of free competition- and translating them into concrete actions. We’ve heard a lot of promises from the government over the past year, about levelling the playing field for all providers, and creating the conditions for fair and open competition across the public service environment. Now we need them to deliver on those promises.
To do that, the government has to take the brave decisions on the structural barriers to fair competition - for instance, by reforming public sector pensions to reduce complexity and ensure fairness for different providers.
It means acting on the proposal to give organisations a right to redress where they think they have been excluded in unfair bidding situations. And ACEVO will also be looking at how we can build on this proposed right of redress to promote not just competition in the interests of service users, but collaboration too - so that where we have prime contractor models, primes work with their subcontractors in the interests of the people they serve, rather than screwing them over for short-term profit. I want a right of redress for third sector organisations treated unfairly by prime contractors as well as commissioners.
Delivering on the promise of reform also means sending the right messages to commissioners about making use of the third sector. So I expect the Government to stand firm on competition-related issues as the health bill passes through the Lords. Many of you know that the services your beneficiaries currently receive could be better. Sometimes they are disgracefully poor. Many of you know you could do the job better. And yet here we are again hearing the familiar calls to put competition ‘back in the box’. Well I think it’s time to put the vested interests back in their box. They need to get out of the way and let us get on with delivering better services to those who need them.
But we need more than just competition. It is not enough for commissioners to be able to pick from providers competing fairly with one another.
We need better commissioning too - a subject that was almost entirely absent from the White Paper.
We need commissioners more open to innovation - which is why I am calling on the Government to extend the Right to Challenge to the NHS and probation, so that where third sector organisations have ideas as to how service can be done better, they are given a fair hearing.
We need commissioners who are able to shift investment from acute services to more preventative ones - less money building prisons and hospitals, more money keeping youngsters out of trouble and older people healthy. I will therefore be pushing the Government to extend social impact bonds into health, and to end its current deliberation on tax incentives for social investment with concrete proposals in the next Budget.
Finally, we need commissioners who are better at listening to what communities want. So I am proposing to the Government that they introduce not just a "right to choice" as suggested in the white paper, but a right to voice too. Giving people more voice in the commissioning process, but also bolstering the rights of the most vulnerable to access information or advocacy. Not only would a right to voice help the most vulnerable to make genuine choices, it would help avoid a repeat of some of the shocking and appalling scenes we saw at Winterbourne View.
THE CHALLENGE FOR OUR SECTOR
Finally, we must not shy away from the challenges that face us as a sector. If we demand higher standards of local and central government, we must demand them of ourselves. We too have to adapt to the new challenges and opportunities arising from the structural changes occurring in the public service markets. The third sector as a whole has to get better at quantifying and evidencing the impact of its work, and demonstrating that impact to commissioners. We need to become more transparent and more accountable, as befits a sector taking an ever more important role in service delivery. That doesn’t just mean being more open to external scrutiny- it also means developing the capacity for internal critical analysis, to help drive forward evolution and efficiency within our organisations. We have to focus more strongly on developing scalable service models, and models of social investment. And we have to get better at working in partnership with each other, to create the added capacity and breadth of expertise that will support our ambitions to reach as many people as we can with our services.
The tasks ahead are formidable. But I know from experience that our members have the commitment, the energy and the passion to succeed. And you can be sure that ACEVO will continue to support you every step of the way. We will not stop demanding fair treatment from local government. We will not stop demanding real progress on transformative public service reform. And we will not stop championing your cause, and the cause of the people you serve.