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 Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

Leaving an organisation that you’ve worked at for thirteen years is unquestionably a time for reflection and thinking what have you actually done all that time? This question becomes trickier if, as I have, you’ve been mainly working in the rather gnomic area of policy, networking and representation, where the journey between intention and result can prove to be a considerable and a winding one. 

Arriving at Newcastle CVS in 2005, it was a time of relative abundance for public sector budgets and spending. Newcastle City Council’s net revenue budget for 2005-06 was £348.5 million, an increase of £4.8m on the previous year. Contrast that with its budget proposals for 2019-20, where net revenue is set at £226.2 million, dropping to £223.2 million in 2020-21. 

Within the public sector, local government has been among the hardest hit by first the coalition and then the Conservative government’s budget cuts. In the last eight years Newcastle has had to make ‘savings’ of £267million; Gateshead Council has made savings of £158 million since 2010. 

In 2005 Partnerships, specifically Local Strategic Partnerships, were the model for creating better communities and solving social ills. The voluntary sector was seen as a key partner and funding was available to make sure it would be involved. 

My role was to ensure that voluntary sector representatives to the Newcastle Partnership’s nine themed partnerships including the Newcastle Partnership Board, Children’s Trust, Safe Newcastle and Neighbourhood Renewal Board were supported to carry out their role and the wider sector informed and involved partnership initiatives. 

At that time it seemed everyone simply had more time to attend forums, networks and partnership meetings. In the voluntary sector there was scope and the opportunity to meet, share information and be curious about how things might done or organised differently and to try things out. There was a commitment to giving time to the city’s partnerships and the plans and strategies that came out of them. 

Of course not everything in the garden was rosy. New Labour’s fondness of target setting and outcome frameworks could restrict and limit rather than enhance the voluntary sector’s ability to meet local challenges. In some quarters attitudes to the Newcastle Partnership and the Labour government’s approach began to sour.

However, public sector investment remained high. Even the impact of the 2008 financial crash wasn’t immediately felt as the government continued to maintain public spending at a workable level. 

Area Based Grant, introduced in 2008, brought together thirty eight previously separate funding streams including Connexions, Children’s Fund, Carers, Local Enterprise Growth Initiative and Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which replaced Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. 

Working Neighbourhood Fund, like NRF and like Single Regeneration Budget before it, was an important source of funding for local voluntary organisations. However, the gathering of previously separate funds into a single pot, in practice made it easier to reduce or cease specific funding streams without the fuss or controversy generated by ending a single standalone fund. This was a sign of what was to come. Another change was to adopt a commissioning and procurement for approach for Area Based Grant rather than manage it as a grant aid scheme. 

The formation in 2010 of the coalition government, its drive to significantly cut public spending, reorganisation of the NHS and wholesale changes to the social security system signalled a major shift that would increase pressures on many voluntary organisations and the communities they work with. 

The new government tried to reach out to the voluntary sector and communities with Big Society but it lacked substance and little concrete emerged from a programme that seemed to mirror the sense of satisfaction and entitlement that certain members of the cabinet were accused of possessing. 

Austerity has been the key motif since 2010. Regeneration funding has disappeared. Many local authorities ceased providing grant aid to the voluntary sector. Newcastle council bucked the trend, launching the Newcastle Fund and Gateshead Council continues to offer grants through the Thrive Fund. Both funds though, have budget cuts pencilled in over the next two years and will reduce in size. 

As grant aid has diminished, contracting and procurement has increased. For over a year Newcastle CVS and a small working group of voluntary organisations met regularly to set up what became the Blue Stone Consortium. Its aim was to provide a vehicle for consortium members to quickly respond to public sector procurement opportunities as they appeared. Our ability to read the tea leaves and anticipate the future was a little faulty however and the expected wave of contract opportunities have never materialised.  

Instead, the largest contracts, those let by central government, such Work Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation have been won by a small number of multinationals, including Carillion, which collapsed at the beginning of this year under the weight of debt and chronic mismanagement and Interserve, which is busy trying to shore up its debt to avoid imminent collapse. At local authority level it is the larger voluntary sector organisations that have dominated the contracting market. Our report from earlier this year, Do We Need to Talk considered the effect of the contracting culture on the voluntary sector, finding that the voluntary sector has not been immune to the behaviours and calamities of the private sector when it comes to contracting.

The Social Value Act was looked on by some (possibly many) to be the saviour, making the procurement process more accessible to small and medium sized voluntary sector and perhaps fairer but Social Value has still to prove its worth. Some  are beginning to question whether procurement and contracting itself has run out of steam and a new model is needed.  

In the meantime, crises abound, especially in mental health services but also in children and adult social care, while Universal Credit drives people into destitution. Voluntary organisations across Newcastle and Gateshead continue however to respond to these crises using all the resources, imagination and resolve available to them. 

My colleague Pam Jobbins (who is also leaving Newcastle CVS after a long stint), has, since November 2001, produced eleven issues a year of our health and social care bulletin, On the Hoof. The very first issue, printed on two pages of A4 and posted to Newcastle CVS members, included items about proposed cuts in adult social care, NHS re-structuring, and an invitation to the Health and Community Care Forum. 

Plus ca change! 

Amy sml Amy McKie, Marketing and Communications Officer

Earlier this year the Lloyds Bank UK Digital Index 2017 reported that 100,000 charities are lacking basic digital skills. This is a huge missed opportunity for those charities to increase their online presence, improve efficiency within their organisations and increase their turnover. The study found that charities using social media are 51% more likely to report an increase in donations, and that ‘highly digital’ charities are ten times more likely to save costs. The Charity Digital Code was released in November and aims to tackle some of these issues with a set of guidelines for small and large charities.

Amy sml Amy McKie, Marketing and Communications Officer

Should I consider crowdfunding my project / idea? With the availability of grant funding dwindling, many charitable organisations are considering alternative routes to generate funds. Crowdfunding has become a widespread approach in recent years, enabled by clever online platforms and digital campaigns. Crowdfunding is not, however, a new concept (records of crowdfunding date back to the 1700s!) and crowdfunding should not rely on digital campaigns and individual pledges alone.

Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

A few years ago I was accused by a well-respected commentator on the voluntary sector of ‘crying wolf’. I had predicted the closure of some local charities because of austerity. I reflected that maybe my perspective was disproportionately negative as CVS often supports organisations in difficulties.

Martin Martin Gollan - Support and Development Manager

Psychologists define cognitive dissonance as simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. If you want to know what this might feel like have a skim through ‘Building a future that works for everyone’ the government’s new Civil Society strategy.

 IMG6683a Pam Jobbins, Policy Officer

Dismayed by the increase in racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks after the 2016 EU Brexit vote, Advocacy Centre North and Newcastle CVS staff, volunteers and trustees joined NCVO and others in sending a message of support from the voluntary sector to those that might feel unsafe or unwelcome. The poster of signatures, #welcomehere, is still displayed in the reception area of our office.

For Welcome Here, our latest report, I asked voluntary and community organisations about the issues facing the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities that they work with, and sought out vignettes of the outstanding work that they are doing.

Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development Manager

By quite some measure most the 166,000 plus voluntary sector organisations in the UK have little or nothing to do with delivery of public sector contracts. NCVOs Civil Society Almanac 2018 tell us that of the £15.3 billion in 2015/16 that went from the public sector to voluntary organisations most of it went to organisations with an annual income of £10 million or more. These charities make up a mere 0.43% of the total voluntary sector.

Delivery of public sector services might appear from these figures to be something of a minority pursuit and therefore unimportant to the rest of the voluntary sector. Except it’s the largest voluntary organisations that are most visible in the public eye and that when things go wrong can quickly easily find themselves under the media spotlight.

Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

Last night the North East Together Network held yet another interesting and thought provoking event, this one on the future of volunteering.

The evening’s key note speaker, George Thomson CEO of Volunteer Scotland, set us off with a series of reflections, ideas and actions arising from a ten week study leave taken last summer. During his ten weeks, George travelled up and down the UK from Bo’ness to Oxford by way of Sunderland, Liverpool and all points in-between.

His journey brought him into contact with a wide array of academics, voluntary sector leaders and others as he deliberated the meaning of public value and its connection to volunteering, community spirit and grassroots leadership.

Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

For the last eight years I have been asking local voluntary and community organisations their views on how life is for them and for the people and communities they support.

I’ve just written up the report (GaN Canny 2018) after 168 organisations responded from Gateshead and Newcastle. It is both uplifting and bleak.

Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

Most people will have been repulsed at the events that took place last week at the President’s Club. Let’s be clear, this is nothing to do with charity and all about men behaving badly. But this episode has given some charities an ethical dilemma about what to do with the money.  Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and others have been criticised in the Daily Mail and other media outlets for returning the donations.

Having spoken to a few charity leaders, there are clearly different perspectives on this and each organisation needs to decide its approach, based on its ethics and values.