Looking at community-led solutions to funding cuts

Posted on the 22nd March 2017

Communities Week 2017: Barney Mynott from NAVCA illustrates ways in which we can deal with funding cuts to local services and authorities by utilising local, community-led strategies.

As a national umbrella organisation, with members right across England, we get a good overview of how community-led activity is being supported in different parts of the country.

We see a big divide in the approach local statutory bodies (such as councils, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Hospital Trusts and Police authorities are taking) as they cope with funding cuts. And although simplistic, it is possible to divide the country into two broad approaches that local areas are taking.

The first approach is that statutory bodies see the public sector cuts as their major challenge and on top of that local voluntary organisations and community groups are just another draw on resources.

The second approach is that faced with major cuts in funding, statutory bodies believe working with local voluntary organisations and community groups is the only way that they will solve some of the ‘wicked’ problems communities face.

Obviously in areas taking the first approach community groups find it hard to be accepted as partners by local statutory bodies. They are cut out of decision making and struggle for funding. The success of areas taking the second approach is evident in the many examples celebrated on My Community.

There is no easy answer to this problem. In areas where councils or CCGs fail to see the potential of local community action, local people can only keep making the case, using examples from other areas and hoping they will turn on a light bulb in the heads of local decision makers.

But there may be an easier to make some progress. As I said my division is simplistic. One way in which it is simplistic is that not all statutory bodies in a locality take the same approach. Spreading good practice within an area can make a difference and voluntary organisations can help – as our focus is on people not individual services.

In particular I am keen to see learning from health spread to benefit other community-led projects and plans that build and strengthen communities.

The health service is beginning to see that the need for people to play a bigger role in designing their own services. This is at the heart of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View which sets out the future direction for the NHS.

One way this is playing out at a local level is the increasing use of social prescribing. Social prescribing involves empowering individuals to improve their health and wellbeing by connecting them to community based services rather than clinical (often expensive) care. Crucially it involves payment following the person – ie the prescription – that allows them to pay voluntary organisations for the support.

An example is York CVS’s Ways to Wellbeing work. It connects people who need health and well being support, due to issues such as loneliness and isolation, with activities and services in their community through a GP ‘social prescription’ service. York CVS works with a range or charities and partners across the city to offer social prescriptions. Ways to Wellbeing uses a ‘person centred’ model that prioritises patient choice and the best outcomes for the individual.

There is a growing evidence base that this works. The most well known is the evaluation of Rotherham CVS’s social prescribing undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University.

The challenge is getting this model adopted by other statutory bodies. It could work for local council’s social care work and it could work for police authorities work to prevent offending. Crucially it gives power to people and it supports communities to have the local services they want. It puts charities and community organisations at the heart of tackling the most difficult issues faced by communities making them part of the solution – not another mouth to feed.

by Barney Mynott, Head of Public Affairs, NAVCA

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