I’m writing this in the final days of 2017 and a list of things which will affect charities, community groups, voluntary organisations and social enterprises even just within Manchester is something you can never actually finish writing (note to self: write more blogs this year) but here are the things which are swishing around in my head as things to think about for 2018.
Starting with a few things at national level, Office for Civil Society will start consultation on a new Civil Society Strategy. The Conservative-led governments since 2010 have sometimes appeared hostile to the things our sector says and does despite various themes such as the “Big Society” or the “Shared Society”. With a new Minister for Civil Society based in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport there’s an opportunity for a new conversation about the role of our sector in shaping places that people live in, not just an abstract national strategy. Often, this kind of strategy ends up being completely disconnected from the day to day work of a community group in Newton Heath or Baguley. Maybe, we can change that this time? (That’s me trying to start the new year with a bit of optimism).
Maybe it will even include an impact assessment of how the sector will be affected by Brexit? (That’s me starting the new year being totally unrealistic!)
Welfare Reform: the rollout of Universal Credit is going to continue to put pressure on local support organisations such as advice organisations, foodbanks and family services. We need to keep campaigning and sharing stories of the impact this is having on people’s lives. That’s partly about challenging the media stories of “benefit scroungers” which have created a whole set of urban myths and prejudices. It’s also about identifying where there are possible legal challenges to this system. Greater Manchester Law Centre is going to be looking to take up test cases which will help challenge the unfair and inflexible aspects of the system through the courts. The Public Law Project recently secured a major victory when it supported a case which went to the High Court and resulted in a judgement which found that part of the rules governing Personal Independence Payments are unlawful and discriminate against people with mental health difficulties. It’s important that our sector keeps making these sorts of challenges. Providing day to day support is part of our job, so is improving the system.
The Greater Manchester Devolution experiment will roll on. I hope it will gain a fresh sense of ambition next year. There’s a danger of becoming less daring as time passes: risk aversion can stifle innovation but only bold solutions will work on things like housing, planning, inclusive growth and so on. We know Transport is going to be one of Andy Burnham’s big themes next year so expect lots of attention around buses, cycling and, if there’s any justice, some serious rethinking of Manchester’s messy very attempt to develop an equivalent of the London Oyster Card. We’ll have to make sure this is an inclusive conversation which brings in seldom heard voices as transport barriers are often at the root of other issues such as social isolation, access to employment, exclusion of people with physical and learning disabilities, etc.
Homelessness will continue to be a highly visible issue, politically and practically. There is a good broad conversation going on about emergency support and getting people off the streets but it will need to get into the harder subject of ongoing support for people with complex needs, collaboration between agencies and some honest discussions about economic priorities.
I will be hoping to see plenty of discussion about how the GM Mayor’s Accord with the VCSE sector is to be implemented. For me, it’s these conversations which are the important bit as the build collaboration and understanding of why it’s important and how it can practically be done. Very easy to write a document and get it signed off. Who remembers the Compact?
There’s no sign of the Government doing anything to tackle the financial pressures faced by Local Authorities and with the national political agenda hypnotised by the fast approaching headlights of Brexit, that’s unlikely to shift any time soon. Manchester still faces these pressures but there are positive signs that at least the Our Manchester approach to collaboration, strategy and community involvement is taking root. As with all these things, some of it ends up being a bit lost in translation but the principles at the heart of it are good and we have a great example of jointly designing and implementing a programme in the shape of the Our Manchester VCS Grants Fund. Hopefully something to build on during the year.
Ofsted has announced that Manchester Children’s Services are no longer inadequate but there is still a lot of work to do to get to a rating of Good on all services. Child protection, Looked After Children and support for care leavers are all still assessed as “requires improvement”. We’ll need to consider what our organisations – whether focused on children, young people and families or other groups – can do to engage with children and young people in or leaving the care system.
The Children and Social Work Act went onto the statute books as of April 2017. This new legislation allows local areas to determine their own arrangements for Safeguarding Children – effectively ending the requirement for a Local Safeguarding Children Board - and focuses on the combined duty of the Local Authority, the Police and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group to safeguard children. It will change the way Serious Case Reviews are conducted, with some being taken up by a new national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel though it is still unclear what form new reports will take. The recognition that the current system is too complex and never had enough resources is welcome but it still leaves our sector with a question: with so many groups operating informally and with limited resources, where is the capacity and support to embed good practice?
Remember also there are Local Elections in May. It’s a good time to be talking to candidates about local issues.
Health and Social Care is an entire briefing in itself! So here is a quick race through some things to watch out for over the coming year:
The Manchester Local Care Organisation doesn’t have a snazzy name yet (Local McCareface?) but it will come into existence from 1st April 2018. And it will take on responsibility for a lot of health and social care services. As I write this, I’m not entirely clear which ones. After a year of conversations and meetings I also don’t have a great deal of insight to offer on how it’s going to work with the VCSE sector. I’m sure the intention is there but there is still a very long way to go.
With Social Prescribing getting a lot of attention at Greater Manchester level but still no overall agreement on what a good model looks like – and, for me, still a lack of recognition that it’s not just about GP’s prescribing voluntary sector stuff, it’s the whole design and system of our sector working with public services. Manchester will roll out the Community Links for Health model to south and central Manchester early in the new year through a tender process. Keep in touch with us if you want news of the turnaround will no doubt be quite fast.
Nationally and locally social care is under pressure but Manchester particularly needs to find new ways of organising care at home and residential care, something picked up in the recent Care Quality Commission report. I think there is room to develop local social enterprises and co-operatives to provide home care, including within particular communities of identity but it’s hard to see where the investment in that could come from as it’s quite a risk to enter a ‘market’ like this when costs are rising and the only sizeable customer (the Council) has less and less money to spend. And of course pressures on the NHS continue. I recently heard someone say that in NHS terms ‘winter’ now lasts for 12 months of the year. We’ll be starting the conversation in January about how the VCSE sector and hospitals can work together.
So, as I did last this time last year, I’m going to leave you with a quotation which sits on my office wall.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred men have torn down, men other-centred can build up.”
Dr. Martin Luther King
On the bright side, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor. It’s about time.