Chris Wright: Post Covid-19 we want changes in how civil society and the state work together

29 Apr 2020 Voices

Chris Wright from Catch22 argues that it’s time to rebalance the relationship between public service delivery bodies and their funders.

There is hardly a sector that hasn’t been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Charities and voluntary sector organisations have been vocal in their concerns about finances and the impact that has on their ability to support their service users.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s the most vulnerable in society who are being disproportionately affected by both the virus and its associated effects. For those on low incomes or who have underlying health conditions, isolation, school closures and reliance on digital communication rather than face to face support is making lives all the more difficult.

The government’s announcement of a £750m package (plus the £300m from Lottery and the Emergency Liquidity Fund being established by Big Society Capital) for frontline charities and the wider voluntary sector is therefore welcome and will undoubtedly go some way to helping them support those than need emergency relief. Alongside other measures – such as the furlough scheme and the support packages for business, which charities can also access –  it will provide some relief and allow vital services to continue. 

But this is not just about money. The government’s guidance to local service commissioners to relax contractual and payment terms is something that will not only be beneficial during this period, but also beyond. Too often those organisations delivering alternative public services are restricted by burdensome KPIs which doesn’t allow for innovation. Or indeed, procurement regulations that prevent capacity being properly unlocked. 

In the post-Covid-19 world, we want to lasting changes in how civil society and the state work together. 

Rebalance contractual relationships 

Firstly, we need contractual relationships to be rebalanced. There must be a shift in focus from targets that promote increased activity and output, to ones that increase impact. 

Current models tend to serve profit over purpose – whereas we really should be putting the needs of people first and foremost. That means an approach to commissioning based on reciprocity, mutuality and trust; contracts that bring organisations together to realise a common purpose. 

Catch22’s Child Criminal and Sexual Exploitation service in Merseyside is using its close relationships with commissioners, police and other partner agencies to rapidly adapt its service during the Covid-19 crisis – referrals for the most at risk young people are still happening, one-on-one video support is in operation, and the team’s work with parents and guardians is now a means of providing wrap-around support while vulnerable young people are confined to their homes.

Greater trust 

Following on from this, there needs to be greater trust between commissioner and service delivery partners.

With the current guidance from government for local authorities on managing their contracts with VCSEs, we’ve seen an adaptability and a recognition of what is fair – such as the shifting of payment of schedules.

There is consideration of what the actual cost of delivering a service, with social value firmly at the heart, and trust that the delivery partner will do what’s best to get the desired outcome. 

For example back in 2016, Catch22 set up Beam House respite centre for child refugees leaving Calais. It took 72 hours to get it up and running and the system rallied around to make things happen at rapid speed – based on trust. In light of the current situation, the onus is on VCSEs to demonstrate the short-term impact of this new way of working, to prove it’s desirable in the long term.  

Meaningful collaboration 

And finally, the competition that often exists between charitable organisations, between the voluntary and private sectors and indeed between the public and private sectors must be replaced by meaningful collaboration. 

Of course there are examples of this happening already; our partnership with Baker McKenzie has developed because they were seeking to offer support to the local community, while Catch22 seeks to enhance our rehabilitation support – we’re also working with MTC to strengthen probation. 

We must collaborate effectively as sectors; private, voluntary and public – this is a time to pull together to achieve fundamental change. This is not about self-protection and narrow interests.

Catch22, alongside others in the sector, are pushing for these changes to apply in the longer term. If services can be delivered with the needs of services users at the heart, and without overly restrictive targets and with proper joint-working, there is huge potential to reform for the better.  This, alongside more effective use of technology to support service users, could see charities and VCSEs emerge from this crisis stronger – and more relevant – than before. 

Chris Wright is chief executive of Catch22

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