Response to PCC Budget Scrutiny
PLYMOUTH CITY COUNCIL BUDGET SCRUTINY CONSULTATION
RESPONSE FROM POP+ ON BEHALF OF THE VOLUNTARY AND COMMUNITY SECTOR IN PLYMOUTH
POP+ is commissioned by Plymouth City Council to support the Voluntary and Community Sector in Plymouth, to build its capacity and influence, and to make its voice heard in development and strategic planning.
Our vision is a vibrant, sustainable third sector in Plymouth valued for delivering effective and efficient cross-sector services and support that leads to positive social change for local people. Our mission is to support cross-sector collaboration with Plymouth’s third sector, to develop thriving organizations and groups that can create social capital and positive social change.
One of our functions is to enable the voice of the voluntary and community sector to be heard at a strategic level. This response is the distilled wisdom of the sector both from a meeting around this document on 3rd October, and previous work around the sector’s vision for the city and how it could work.
1: Providing Services in New Ways:
Much of what the council is doing is moving in new directions, but as yet services do not look as if they are using new ways.
This needs a culture change, and a recognition that the city has huge resources to deliver services in the Voluntary and Community sector – already commissioned by the council to deliver much of their social care – but is not using them.
Innovation will require a real and equal partnership with this resource of goodwill, expertise, professionalism and passion from the city’s communities and citizens. This is what the council says it wants to happen, but as yet there is limited movement towards it.
For example, the city announced that it was going to close 7 libraries, and then consulted. If it had started the discussion and decision making with communities several years ago the service could have changed to meet the needs of each community, within or even under the budget restrictions. This earlier joint planning now needs to happen with all the services which will come under threat.
In last year’s Budget Scrutiny consultations POP+ held large meetings of VCS providers and presented two outline ‘plans’ for environment and community. While there may be some moves in the directions we pointed to, there has never been any attempt to work with the VCS to make any of this happen.
Previously POP+/the VCS has been co-opted to the Budget Scrutiny Panel where these points can be made on specific services. This did not happen last year. We would like a co-opted place this year.
Points we would make:
- Money needs to be switched to early intervention and prevention if it is to be saved on high level, acute and expensive interventions.
- This means co-design with VCS/POP+ and co-production (we are planning a joint training session for commissioners and VCS to explore how this can happen in Plymouth). If the people and communities that use the services are involved in the whole journey of planning what the services should be the services will be more relevant, work better, and cost less. This requires culture change in both the VCS and PCC, but it needs to happen. Currently aspects of PCC find it difficult to relinquish control.
- This may mean more risk taking and trust from the council to enable creative thinking and innovative, sometimes radical, solutions.
- Other areas, like Manchester, are showing the way on this. We can learn from others.
We cannot assume that local councils will survive in any form that we recognise. It is essential that responsibility is shared with the community now.
2 Growing Plymouth’s Economy
This is not just a question of money or commercial investment; the economy of Plymouth depends on the level of wellbeing and confidence of its people to invent and to work. So there is a need to ensure that people are supported to be a full part of the city, including employment.
The new Inclusive Economy sub-committee of the Growth Board recognises this, and is a good example of the kind of co-production called for in Question 1. In it a range of cross sector organisations, including the VCS, are looking at narrowing income gaps and reducing barriers to employment. This may well rely on confidence and skills building at the grassroots level where the VCS does a lot of work.
- It is acknowledged that the SEIF fund has been a success in helping community ventures but there are still problems for small community organisations to have access to tendering, in terms of their capacity and understanding. There is more that can be done to include these very valuable and effective (and inexpensive!) organisations deliver mainstream commissioned work. This is where risk and trust come in again.
- If there were a real partnership in planning with the community and the council there is room for collaborative bidding for joint funds. For example the Big Lottery is about to launch a £90m Partnership Fund. This would be VCS led, but need to be a cross sector partnership. It is important that we don’t miss these opportunities for the city.
- Joint initiatives round places can take more risks and build local economies.
- Local sourcing of contracts is important to keep money within Plymouth’s economy.
- These things rely on real partnership, and it needs to be acknowledged that human relationships are important when developing these conversations.
3 Land and Buildings:
There are many underused buildings in Plymouth which could be innovatively and collaboratively used with cross-sector planning around solutions to some of the barriers to change.
- There can be more done around community assets and community builds/businesses. This again needs co-planning and design with the VCS and the private sector, but would lead to stronger and more resilient communities, which is the basis on which wealth can be formed.
- POP+ needs central facilities with footfall and room for community training, conferences, meetings etc. This could be a major resource for the city and we would appreciate help in looking for a suitable building.
- The Waterfront needs major investment if we are to be an international tourist destination. This needs to be taken very seriously as an investment. It is a wonderful asset, but neglected and in disrepair. This also feeds into planning strategies and protection of a conservation area and a beautiful open space.
- In comparison with Portsmouth or Bournemouth there is very little in terms of heritage and museums. It is acknowledged that there will be a big central resource in the Box, but why not use the submarines, have a Drake museum, an internationally known Dockyard museum? Why do we not celebrate our heritage? There are VCS organisations, mostly small and many neighbourhood based, which would want to have input into this.
- Roads and other transport links are vitally important.
4 Environment: keeping Plymouth Green and Clean.
This is about the world we live in, which influences every area of our life and is much wider than the issues listed here, like dog fouling and litter.
- POP+ has a large network called Environment Plymouth, which will put in its own response, and submitted what amounted to a ‘plan’ for the environment in Plymouth at the last Budget Scrutiny consultation (17/18).
- There are concerns around the fact that this was not taken up in any way, and there is no apparent move to create a strategic plan for this vital area of our lives. There are also worries, given the silence, that the future of some things like parks may be in the balance (and like Libraries we may suddenly hear of changes the council are planning to make without having spoken to communities.)
- We therefore offer the expertise of Environment Plymouth, and our links with neighbourhood community groups to do some real co-design around the Environmental Plan for Plymouth and co-ordinate the activity already happening.
5 Modernising Social Care.
This is the main cost to the council budget, and the main focus of much VCS activity. It is therefore something we take very seriously and emphasise again:
- We must move to early intervention and prevention to avoid the huge high level costs of acute and crisis case. Currently we don’t have the means for prevention in place, and all the money is going to cure.
- This means we must strengthen communities to be more resilient and take care of themselves.
- This means an active co-designing of community services where community services and local communities are equal partners with agencies. This is an area where the VCS sector is ready and eager to work with the council, and also with the CCG.
- We will be working on this at the Health and Wellbeing Board, but there may well also need to be an operational cross sector planning body.
- It is also an area where often the council does not need to invest much more than seed funding, and endorse ideas without taking a risk.
- Where ‘bridging’ funding is needed to put prevention in place while still delivering the ‘cure’ the council should look at social investment, or joint funding bids with the VCS sector.
Examples of collaborative early interventions and prevention of harm approaches:
- POP+ are working on being part of the ‘Compassionate City’ movement. St Lukes are leading on looking at end of life and dying in the city. We (jointly POP+/PCC) need to address end of life care and adopt compassionate city approaches to ensuring quality of life, which also means dying with dignity and appropriate care. In terms of budgets this would mean:
- dying at home rather than in hospital
- less demand on emergency services
- planning for end of life reduces stress on individuals and families- knock-on saving to health and social care
- reduced time off work for grieving and stress in the workplace means higher productivity and knock-on savings for health and care
- happier and more financially secure communities means higher growth rates for the city
- and no doubt other benefits.
- The NSPCC are putting significant resource into Plymouth to strengthen communities to be able to talk about things like child sexual exploitation and abuse: the Prevent Agenda wants communities to keep themselves and their vulnerable members safe with sharing intelligence and talking about worries round extremism. We (POP+/the VCS) would like to work with the council, including councillors, and others (the Police, the CCG, GPs etc) to build strong local neighbourhoods. This is work we are about to start and are talking about now.
- Social Prescribing: GPs are under stress and threat and currently see many people whose problems are social not medical. Hence they too need strong communities so that people have support to be well and happy without needing to go to the doctor. This is happening all over the country and we have various small pilots going on in Plymouth at the moment. We also have a host of community organisations wanting to contribute. It needs to be coherently planned and funded, with co-design with communities themselves. Currently there is an application for a cross Devon approach to the Life Chances Fund to develop and provide a social prescribing offer. We appreciate that there is also a PCC commission coming out in this area…but this is one where we need to link it all up.
We believe this area of working with communities, to bring resources into the prevention of crisis and the building of strong, well and robust communities, is the key to how to deliver services with decreasing statutory budgets.
We would like to work with the council to co-design how this happens. We appreciate that there are moves towards this from Integrated Commissioning and the new Community Connections Dept – but we can be more pro-active and a more equal partner in their work.
6 Preventing Harm to Children
This is another area where strengthening communities will keep children safer and mean that people are more likely to be watching for harm and doing something about it. This level of early intervention and prevention, not to mention the support of the community for good parenting and support in playgroups etc, will be a major source of preventing harm. Where harm is not prevented the cost to children themselves and to the council budget is enormous.
- The Child Poverty Action Plan needs to be actively pursued and part of any work in neighbourhoods. Community Partners need to be involved in this.
- Community groups and other resources can encourage fostering.
- The NSPCC pilot ‘Together for Children’ will aim to encourage communities to make harm to children and preventing it something that people actively debate and do. The VCS will work with NSPCC on this.
7 Council Tax
If the council does this it must be open and explicit about why and what difference it will make. People will find it hard to equate a big rise in council tax with cuts in their services….so the council needs to show in some detail the difference between capital and revenue budgets, and what exactly the money is spent on.
- 3% + 2% = 5% which is above the rate of inflation
- Wealthier households may be willing, but this is a huge leap for some people, including perhaps some of the most vulnerable.
- The council would need to say what difference that 5% will make very specifically…what would not be there if it wasn’t paid.
- Presumably new housing projects will increase revenue.
- The need for this rise is to pay for crisis, not prevention. What plans do the council have to work with us on the small things that the VCS can do towards this?
- Can we have a PCC-led budget forum for different sectors to come together on a regular basis to have their input on upcoming projects to help identify savings, risks, forward thinking budget scrutiny? Or maybe regular ‘town hall’ type open meetings?
- Would the council think of social investment or other loans to cover the change to low level preventative services as the long term answer to falling statutory budgets?
- What are the reserves for? Could some of that be used? Again the answer has to be clear and understood.
8 Anything else?
- What effect will Brexit have? Is there a risk assessment that people can see?
- Community and Voluntary groups would like to work more closely with councillors. The VCS is here to help…..the reducing budget is understood and the sector is committed to the people and the city.
- People don’t speak ‘Local Authority’ so clear communication is the key. People do and will understand the actual issues.
- Can the VCS be co-opted this year as previously onto the Budget Scrutiny Panel?