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Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Support Service (AIRE)

The Home Office receives applications for asylum from people arriving in the UK who are fleeing persecution, war and political unrest. Many of the new arrivals are destitute, so whilst their claims are checked and assessed they need to be housed and supported, not least because until someone is granted leave to remain they may not take paid employment and have no entitlement to welfare benefits. The Home Office therefore provides a range of accommodation and support services to asylum seekers and these services are currently being retendered. The tender will involve delivery in all four countries forming the UK.

3SC is hoping to develop a supply chain to deliver some of the face-to-face aspects of the services including the provision of an outreach support service and the provision of resettlement support.

The next stage of the tendering process will commence in mid- July and once that begins 3SC will start the process of actively seeking delivery organisations.

Interview: Dave Wylie

Bootstrap Enterprises is an east Lancashire-based not for profit business, a community enterprise that for more than 30 years has been involved in welfare-to-work activities, business start-up support, vocational training, and other services to social enterprises in the area. “Probably around 80% of our business is around delivering welfare-to-work activities,” Dave Wylie, Programme Manager with Bootstrap, tells 3SC Impact. The staff of around 100 delivers a variety of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Big Lottery, and European Social Fund supported programmes. For 3SC, Bootstrap delivers its Specialist Employment Service across Lancashire. Bootstrap currently has some 12 delivery contracts with around 2,500 clients across east Lancashire.

“I’ve been with the company about 10 years now,” says Wylie, “and it’s changed a lot. I came from a local authority background and in 2008 we transferred the services we delivered to support disabled people out of the local authority and into Bootstrap.

How have things changed? “I think the kind of business-driven focus on payment by results model that DWP lives and dies by now is a huge change – we could be working with some clients for up to two years before we start to see any revenue return from the contract. That’s been the greatest change in the last seven or eight years, the understanding that only a good performance is going to bring you the income that you need.” But does payment by results work in such a sensitive area, where lots of damaged individuals come though Bootstrap’s doors, each with their own complexity of problems? “From a taxpayer’s perspective I think payment by results is a good model of ensuring value for money, in terms of government letting other organisations deliver its services,” says Wylie. “The challenge becomes when you consider an organisation like ourselves – smallish, not for profit, but we are the local specialist – and resource-wise it can be quite a challenge to deliver. It can get quite hairy sometimes but from the taxpayer’s perspective the payment by results model is absolutely the right way to play it. It doesn’t recognise some of the challenges that particular customers can bring, but we are resigned to it now.”

Wylie is clearly a committed enthusiast for his work. “It’s very difficult,” he says, “to explain to people exactly what it is you do. On the local level, everybody knows Bootstrap, everybody knows that company next to the railway station with the two big red doors is Bootstrap – but unless you have been through those doors very few people actually know what it is that we do. We are rooted in the east Lancashire area.”

And he’s a big fan of 3SC. “They are a very good and proactive organisation to work with. They do invest in us, are very supportive of us, and despite the scale of our very small piece in the overall contract we deliver for them, we are so very well looked after. They offer us training and make sure that happens reasonably locally. We benefit from a good contractor/sub- contractor relationship with them. When we do work as a sub- contractor for one of these big organisations, the sense is always very much ‘this is how we do it and this is what you will achieve’ and it’s numbers, numbers, numbers and outcomes, outcomes, outcomes. But 3SC are very respectful of our skills and experience, and are very tolerant of the challenging situations some of our clients face and how long that might take.”

The challenges for someone such as Dave Wylie are various, but one thing causes difficulties these days – the growth of short-term working and temping agencies’ recruitment: they make meeting the DWP’s requirements for sustainable jobs tricky. Young people facing difficulties with apprenticeships is another issue – the sheer complexity of the benefits system and payments make life difficult for young people. But when we ask him what would make his life easier, or better, or more fulfilling, he only pauses briefly before saying: “My life would be much more fulfilling, in terms of the people me and my colleagues work with, if we could ensure opportunities and access to jobs for all people with disabilities. In the DWP’s Access to Work programme it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg world; you’ve almost got to have the job in place before you will be considered for Access to Work support. In an ideal world a more accessible and responsive Access to Work programme would better serve our customers and employers too.”

Interview: Kirsty McHugh

Kirsty McHugh has been CEO of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) since 2010. She has an impressive track record of service in the Third Sector. ERSA has about 270 members across the UK, with some 77% of those not-for-profit entities. Under McHugh it has grown substantially – it “covers a lot of bases”, says McHugh. “The heartland is still ‘back to work’ type services”. Given that the UK now has something approaching ‘full’ employment, is it a case of ‘job done’ for ERSA?

“It’s an interesting picture. If you look under the surface it’s not anything like as happy as the government would like to think. An employment minister did announce a few years ago that he had solved long-term unemployment, and a subsequent unemployment minister told a Select Committee that he’d solved youth unemployment. That’s interesting, given that youth unemployment in this country is 12.1%. That’s only the people who count as unemployed. Unemployment is officially about 4.2% but we know it’s very geographic in nature and that particular groups of people are faring very badly. “Disability is a big one for us,” says McHugh, “where the employment gap is over 30%. And that’s before you talk about low pay and insecure employment.” Once upon a time it was simpler to get a grip on the true employment picture. The typical person had a job, just one job, or they didn’t and they registered as unemployed. Today it’s more confusing. Says McHugh: “We have to be a bit careful. Research by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation did show that a lot of people who have got zero-hour contracts do it as a second job. It’s not their only work. There does seem to be quite a lot of evidence that they like the freedom to be able to work a second job. Clearly, however, there are people on zero- hour contracts who should be on proper employment contracts with all the rights that apply.”

If you are an ex-offender, if you are disabled, if you come from a disadvantaged background, you can face all kinds of overt difficulties – most of which are now illegal – but, much more difficult, disguised obstacles to finding work. “People with offending backgrounds – we know the level of discrimination that goes on there. But also the profile of people in prison in terms of skills, and all the difficulty within the prison service in terms of short-term sentencing, people moving round between prisons, learning plans not being effective or disrupted, the correlation with severe mental health issues – it’s a complete disaster,” in McHugh’s view.

The employment support sector – which includes organisations such as ERSA and 3SC – is very mission-driven and this passion is what keeps them going even when government money has dried up. Says McHugh: “My members know, in terms of the clients they support, that we as a society need people to become more economically resilient and to work – good quality work is a big part of that. There isn’t any big government money around and so they are working much harder to get Big Lottery funding, from trusts and foundations – it’s just harder for them to put together the money for the services they need, because of national government retrenchment. One of the nice things about being older is that you know that governments go through cycles. We have no idea what the economy is going to do over the next five years. The government really thinks it has introduced sufficient flexibility into the labour market such that we are not going to get the kind of large-scale unemployment we had in the 1980s and 90s. The issue now is productivity and therefore the answer to that is apprenticeship. But there has been a 40% drop-off in apprenticeships funded by the levy between February 2017 and February 2018.”

McHugh is a glass half-full person with great energy – which she needs. We suggest to her that national government is in disarray when it comes to some very basic social problems, and she comes right back and points to local and regional government and independent initiatives that are ‘plugging the gap.’ “Where I get rather frustrated is old-style organisations who say ‘oh things are terrible because national government isn’t giving us as much money to run contracts’,” says McHugh. “I’m far more interested in a public service reform agenda which integrates with properly- supported Third Sector and other capacity, is far more flexible and uses money far more smartly than it has done before. And crucially, a reform agenda that works for the economic demands of today and into the future.”

Austerity

Are there signs that the government is finally loosening the purse strings 10 years on from the financial crash? Some recent activity would suggest it is. For example, the government has agreed a five-year deal to give the NHS a real term increase in funding. Health Minister Jeremy Hunt plans a review of adult social care later this year which will inevitably result in a real term increase there as well.

Indeed, there is pressure from all areas of government to increase funding and given a few examples of where it is has been achieved it is hard to see this pressure not increasing from other departments – such as the MoD – also staking their claim for more money.

Even if there is no Brexit dividend the government has to show an improvement in services as Brexit progresses. If the wheels have not come off austerity completely there is enough activity to suggest a softening of austerity and in turn a reason to be optimistic about modest increases in some areas of funding in coming years.

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The Social Value Act: David Lidington

The government is to strengthen the Social Value Act and require commissioners to “explicitly evaluate” social value when they tender a contract. So said David Lidington (pictured above), Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, during a recent speech given at the Reform think tank in which he stressed his commitment to using more voluntary sector organisations to deliver public services.

As it stands, the Social Value Act requires commissioners to consider the wider value added to society by each bidder; all major procurements will now have to “explicitly evaluate” those benefits.

Said Lidington: “We want to see public services delivered with values at their heart, where the wider social benefits are recognised. That means government doing more to create and nurture vibrant, healthy, innovative, competitive and diverse marketplaces of suppliers that include and encourage small businesses, mutuals, charities, co-operatives and social enterprises – and therefore harness the finest talent from across the public, private and voluntary sectors.”

We couldn’t agree more, although words need to be transferred to deeds. 3SC’s recent position paper calls for the same changes to be made to the Social Value Act and a greater willingness on the part of public sector commissioners to trust smaller enterprises to do the right things. At a time of great social divisiveness there is only one urgent task for all of us – to start cooperating and spreading the load. The days of monolithic giants motivated solely by how big a dividend they can give to a demanding shareholder ought to be long past.

Buy Social Corporate Challenge

The Buy Social Corporate Challenge, which was launched in 2016 by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) and is a campaign to boost those British businesses with a social mission, has seen around a dozen participating companies, which have spent a total of £45.3 million so far with organisations that aim to address social and environmental issues. Despite attracting some major names – such as the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, consulting firm PwC, and the insurer Zurich, it remains far from achieving its goal of seeing £1 billion channelled into the sector by 2020.

Peter Holbrook, SEUK’s head, has said: “If we are to achieve our ambitious target of £1 billion spent with social enterprises we need more businesses to get involved. What the Challenge has managed to achieve in the last two years has undoubtedly been impressive. Just over a handful of companies have managed to create hundreds of jobs, weave social impact into their supply chains and spend millions with social enterprises. Think of the impact if every FTSE 100 company was on board. Social enterprises are thriving, market-leading businesses, which also deliver significant social benefit. Our latest report shows that 100% of major corporates have found the services of social enterprises to be either as good or better than their previous suppliers with prices which are just as competitive. It makes sense that more corporates should sign up – it’s a win-win situation.” To that end SEUK has welcomed a round-table hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May designed to support the challenge by encouraging government procurement to support social enterprise by prioritising them in purchasing decisions.

The Year Two impact report from SEUK looks at the programme’s first two years and shows that the Buy Social Corporate Challenge has directly or indirectly created 329 jobs at social enterprises. Through corporate contracts, social enterprises have been able to reinvest £2.98 million into their social missions. Social enterprises benefitting from the challenge include Auticon, an IT consultancy which exclusively employs consultants on the autism spectrum; Change Please, a coffee supplier, which creates sustainable jobs for the homeless; and Wild Hearts Office, a stationery supplier, which supports female entrepreneurs in the developing world.

NAO report on Universal Credit

A new report on Universal Credit by the National Audit Office (NAO) published in June 2018 states: “We think that there is no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit. We recognise the determination and single-mindedness with which the Department has driven the programme forward to date, through many problems. However, throughout the introduction of Universal Credit local and national organisations that represent and support claimants have raised a number of issues about the way Universal Credit works in practice.”

Stark words. And it doesn’t get any better: “The Department has responded to simple ideas to improve the digital system but defended itself from those that it viewed as being opposed to the policy in principle. It does not accept that Universal Credit has caused hardship among claimants, because it makes advances available, and believes that if claimants take up these opportunities hardship should not occur. This has led it to often dismiss evidence of claimants’ difficulties and hardship instead of working with these bodies to establish an evidence base for what is actually happening. The result has been a dialogue of claim and counter-claim and gives the unhelpful impression of a Department that is unsympathetic to claimants.”

The Department claims it has now got “a better grip of the programme in many areas”. However, the NAO concludes, “we cannot judge the value for money on the current state of programme management alone. Both we, and the Department, doubt it will ever be possible for the Department to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved. This, the extended timescales and the cost of running Universal Credit compared to the benefits it replaces cause us to conclude that the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven.”

What a damning indictment. Much of the criticism from the NAO is directed at the government’s Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (pictured above) who has been accused of making “incorrect” claims about benefits in Parliament. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas didn’t mince her words: “Things have reached a new low when the National Audit Office accuses a Cabinet Minister of lying.”

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, which develops, runs and enables community projects that combat poverty and exclusion, gave her own assessment of the NAO’s findings: “No one should need to turn to a foodbank. Our benefits system was built to end hunger and destitution – Universal Credit can and must continue that legacy, but if it is to do so we need payments to cover the cost of essentials, more support in place for groups of people most likely to need a foodbank, and debt advice to be offered to everyone moving onto the new system.”

Probation services

The House of Commons Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) was published in June, and while it contained some headline-grabbing comments, perhaps the most significant remark as far as 3SC is concerned was this: “The voluntary sector is less involved in probation than they were before the TR reforms were implemented. This is of deep concern to us given the real benefits that the voluntary sector, especially smaller organisations, can bring to probation.” We all share the same goals – make probation work better, reduce re- offending rates, help offenders to integrate successfully into life outside custodial sentences. So how come it isn’t working?

The charity Clinks, which supports voluntary organisations that work with offenders and their families, tracks the successes and otherwise of TR and published its third report in April, based on a survey of 132 voluntary sector organisations conducted earlier this year – in advance of the Justice Committee’s report. It is remarkable how far the two reports overlap in their findings, particularly when it comes to the paucity of the involvement of the voluntary sector in TR. The probation services have failed to engage smaller voluntary organisations, according to Clinks: “Smaller voluntary organisations are much less likely to be funded by probation despite their significant contribution to resettlement and rehabilitation services. Whilst much of this might be explained by a general under-resourcing of probation services, many smaller organisations have not been engaged in any meaningful way by probation services.” The Clinks study is a pretty damning indictment of a system that, while clearly under- funded, is suffering as much from bureaucratic tick-boxing exercises that are inhibiting the good work being done by many small voluntary sector organisations, which are small enough and local enough to be able to get very close to and form a relationship with individuals, and therefore make a positive change to the lives of former offenders.

This is however, not the case in every area. 3SC is part of the Purple Futures partnership which clearly recognises the benefits that Third Sector organisations bring to delivering rehabilitative services and reducing re-offending. 3SC creates and manages a diverse supply chain of around 50 small, medium and large Third Sector organisations successfully providing offender facing, rehabilitative provision across the five Purple Futures Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Our aim is to ensure moving forward that we can facilitate as many Third Sector providers as possible to be involved in delivering rehabilitative services, not just in the Purple Futures CRCs, but across them all.

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The Value of Small

Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research teamed up with Lloyds Bank Foundation to produce a distinctive study of the contribution made by small and medium-sized charities in England and Wales. These charities are defined as having an annual income of between £10,000 and £1 million and constitute 52% (64,000) of all registered charities.

The research throws up some compelling reasons why small-scale charities manage to achieve an unexpected effectiveness, largely through offering a personal, responsive, long-term, trustworthy and rapid-decision service. The distinctiveness of small and medium sized charities derives from a set of features that the research identified, particularly the plugging of gaps in the public services. Small/medium scale charities tend to be “first responders to newly emerging needs at a hyper-local level”; they achieve diversity through recruiting volunteers from the local community; and they often work in a micro fashion, at the level of individual needs. Importantly, small/medium sized charities can offer ‘more bang for the buck’, providing many more volunteers per £1 of funding than larger charities. They tend to be more embedded in local organisations and social networks, enabling “people to navigate services and know which providers within the wider ecosystem are able meet or respond to their needs.”

That’s the good news; the bad is that small and medium sized charities are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to winning public sector tenders. The research findings “suggest there is a mismatch between the distinctive offer, approach and position of SMCs [small/medium sized charities]; the approach local public sector bodies take to commissioning services; and the way that the value of those services − the outcomes and wider benefits they lead to − is measured and understood.” The research calls for public sector bodies to give “more consideration to how SMCs can be involved in procurement and commissioning processes.

This means that tender specifications should take account of the distinctive offer, approach and position of SMCs for meeting the needs of different service user populations.” Joanne Cholerton, CEO of 3SC, added: “3SC welcomes this piece of research which clearly supports our views on the unique benefits of small and medium sized charities. 3SC will continue to push for change in the public procurement system as set out in its position paper, so that more of these small and medium size Third Sector organisations can be involved in delivering public services.”

Fifty years of Crisis

Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, is 50 years old this year. Inspired by the 1967 TV drama Cathy Come Home directed by Ken Loach, the charity was founded by the reforming Conservative William Shearman and sadly is perhaps more needed than ever. Its 529 staff and 11,000 volunteers last year dealt with more than 11,000 homeless people, and its media presence is today very powerful. Today the number of people living in temporary accommodation according to Crisis is almost 80,000, a 56% increase from 2010. Crisis has evolved from its roots to become not just a practical support for the homeless but a research powerhouse, publishing a plethora of studies into proposed solutions to homelessness or the social costs of being homeless, and gathering relevant statistics that are relied on by commentators.

Its latest report, published in June, is a mammoth undertaking. It proposes nothing less than a solution to “end homelessness in Great Britain” by, for example, building 100,500 new social homes each year for the next 15 years and imposing a duty on public bodies to prevent homelessness. The report says there are almost 160,000 households experiencing the worst forms of homelessness in Britain, and that on current trends this is expected to almost double in the next 25 years. A particular target of Crisis is to end rough sleeping and it embraces Housing First, a policy which operates with the general principle that homeless people are moved off the streets and temporary shelters directly into housing without preconditions. Jon Sparkes, CEO of Crisis, described the report as providing “a comprehensive plan that shows exactly how we can address the root causes of homelessness and make it a thing of the past.” Crisis acknowledges that its plans will cost money but it commissioned the services of PwC to conduct a cost/benefit analysis. The report states that PricewaterhouseCoopers put the total costs of Crisis’ plans during 2018-2041 at £19.3 billion but found that they would deliver benefits of £53.9 billion.

Carillion fallout

And so it goes on. Months after the catastrophic failure of Carillion the fallout continues. One of the latest examples is the project to build a council headquarters and college buildings under the auspices of Tameside Council in Greater Manchester. The project will provide a new Advanced Skills Centre for Tameside College, a Joint Public Service Centre headquarters, and a new Wilko’s shop built in Ashton-Under-Lyne’s town centre.

Carillion’s demise will now cost Tameside Council an estimated £9 million – money it did not expect to have to find. To fund this huge shortfall Tameside will have to use its capital budget so the £36 million second phase of the development can go ahead.

The final bill will be £9.4 million more than expected and will force a re-prioritisation of “plans for future investment and regeneration”, cabinet members were told at a recent Council meeting. Council leader Brenda Warrington insisted that the project would not become “a white elephant”. But, it seems, the damage has already been done – in financial terms at least. Raising the extra £9 million means, inevitably, cuts or savings from elsewhere. Talking to the BBC, Councillor Warrington said it was “soul destroying” when Carillion collapsed 105 days away from completion of the building work but “swift action” saved the project from becoming “stagnant”, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS). Warrington added that “considerable amounts of capital” had been spent so it “would have been a massive disservice to the people of Tameside.”

“So the choice was – have a white elephant sat there doing nothing, it’s cost us a lot of money and we get nothing back from it – or to make the difficult decisions to test out how do we get this completed?” Carillion owed about £2 billion to its 30,000 suppliers, sub-contractors and short-term creditors, all of whom risk getting nothing back from the liquidation.

John Swinney, chair of 3SC, said that the collapse of Carillion – and the ongoing fallout – was yet more reason to recalibrate the way in which Government projects are awarded, carried out and completed. “3SC is leading the way in this regard as our recent Position Paper amply demonstrates,” he said.

Photo by building.co.uk

3SC’s 50+ Support

“I would encourage everyone who is unemployed to do this course. It opens up a whole new world.” That’s one of the encouraging feedback comments by one of the 37 customers who attended one of 3SC’s “Over 50+ Support” programmes in Wales, which started in May this year and will run through to February 2019, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions. Over six weeks and across seven locations, people aged 50 and over will be encouraged to move towards work by increasing their motivation and self-confidence. The aim of the Programme is to successfully up skill 235 50+customers, on the current contracts.

The first cohort has been very successful with 33 out of 37 completing the courses at Newport and Bargoed. The training during the course comes in 12 modules, covering a range of topics such as goal-setting, CV writing and job applications, interview skills, literacy and numeracy, and use of the internet. Finding work or changing jobs at 50+ can be a severe challenge. According to the charity AGE UK, “for those who find themselves out of work it is harder to get another job than for any other age group”. Yet at the same time the prospects for working into one’s older years ought to be excellent, purely on the basis of demographics. By 2026 the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 20.5%, a rise of slightly more than 6% in 50 years. The 16-64 year age group is at the same time forecast to shrink to 60.7% in 2026. Funding of the state pension at the age of 65 will inevitably come under pressure and people will want to work longer, for financial and health reasons. 3SC’s 50+ Support programme is helping those who wish to stay active and engaged very successfully which is not only beneficial to them but also to wider society as a whole.

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Spotlight on P3

Sean Wimhurst (pictured above right) is Head of Justice with P3, the charity that delivers services for socially excluded and vulnerable people. P3 is part of Purple Futures, together with 3SC, Shelter and Interserve; Purple Futures runs five Community Rehabilitation Companies. Purple Futures is, says Wimhurst, “work in progress still. It’s been a learning process. I think we are getting there and now pushing towards a more collaborative approach. I think we have recognised that if we are going to influence peoples’ behaviour, the best opportunity to do that is early in the client’s probation journey. When people are leaving prison or getting new community orders, that’s generally when they are most committed to change, when they are thinking ‘I would like things to be different.’ It’s also when they have got the most involvement from their probation officer and input from their through the gates worker in prison. We have been involved in that process in the past but it’s been quite an ad hoc involvement. If we can be more integrated into early interventions with the clients then that’s when it really works well.”

Probation officers coordinate the process of clients leaving prison and also those on community orders. They can be referred to P3’s services by the probation officer; P3 offers, says Wimhurst, a very intensive support programme specifically targeting people who, after assessments, are found to have a 75% chance of re- offending within the next two years. That is P3’s core group, representing the top 10% of offenders. “We would be looking at addressing the things that are very practical,” says Wimhurst. “If people don’t get help with these things they often fall straight back into their previous way of life, mixing with the same peer group, accessing poor housing or no housing, they carry on with substance abuse, and they quickly fall back into a pattern that they feel safe with. Many of our clients are really motivated to change when they leave prison, they want things to be different but they have limited coping strategies. And a lot of the time the system is stacked against them – they are usually serial offenders and when they come out people don’t give them the opportunities that might help. Very often they are excluded from local authority housing and private landlords won’t touch them.” It’s very difficult for people to change their life even if they want to. “What we do,” says Wimhurst, “is to act as an advocate for the client and also provide them with very practical support. We will take them to appointments, we will prompt them that they need to be up at a certain time, we make sure they turn up with the right attitude, we will make sure they have their documents in place. Our offer is very individual because every individual is different – it’s very intensive work compared to what they are used to. Our objective is to make ourselves redundant – by ensuring that our clients are better able to cope.”

Female offenders

The government’s decision to abandon plans to build five prisons for women and instead focus on addressing female offending by developing residential women’s centres – as set out in the recently published Female Offender Strategy document – is very welcome, so long as sufficient resources are made available. In his foreword to this David Gauke, the Secretary of State for Justice, said: “Offenders are part of our society and we must take steps to understand and address the underlying causes of offending, if we are to improve the lives of victims and support offenders to turn their own lives around.”

Housing female offenders in prison comes at a high price, both financial and human. The average cost of holding one woman in prison is £42,766 per annum according to the Ministry of Justice. The human cost can be gauged from the fact that women prisoners’ self-harming rate is almost five times higher than that of men. Almost 60% of women in custody or supervised in the community have experienced domestic abuse.

The strategy document is a breath of fresh air. It attempts to see the ways that women tend to offend as social and personal problems, a reflection of a chaotic life in which the cycles of poverty and despair endlessly repeat and which need human intervention to help break them. Tackling the reasons why women offend – and most offences are low-key non-violent types – requires joined-up thinking between central and local government, the NHS and welfare services, and Third Sector entities; this kind of multi-agency effort will be tricky to get right but it’s good to see that a start is being made.

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In House Development and Process Automation

In House Development and Process Automation

       – how 3SC delivers contracts in the digital age

Martin Bohling, 3SC Head of I.T and Operations


In the current environment of austerity it is challenging for a company to thrive on government contracts. Regardless of real delivery costs, commissioners are offering less and less money each year; resulting in a race to the bottom where contractors either cut quality or operate at a loss.

3SC’s answer to this dilemma has been digital automation.

What is digital automation?  In a nutshell: using a piece of code to automate a repetitive task that would otherwise require manpower.

Everyone knows that repetitive tasks lend themselves to automation. We have all seen factory works replaced by machines over our lifetime.

Today the vast majority of new robots are just pieces of code.   Small innocuous algorithms designed to perform a simple task. We all interact with them frequently. Whether you are paying the congestion charge online or starting a Netflix subscription: the only human required for a successful/completed transaction is YOU.

SMEs traditionally struggle with automation.   Sure, McDonalds has the resources to replace cashiers with touch screens, but what can a company with 30 staff hope to accomplish?
Well that depends on the company’s approach to IT:

  • If you choose to outsource your IT… well then you are paying good money to ensure your company’s core competencies remain firmly rooted in the 80s;
  • If on the other hand you hire one or more skilled developers and emphasise IT’s role in your workflow and decision making… then a surprising number of optimisations can be achieved.

Being a purveyor of technology rather than a consumer, allows 3SC to continuously add small automations to existing workflows.

Both 3SC and its competitors will use bespoke web-based applications to allow collaboration between themselves and the various delivery organisations subcontracted for field work.

If you outsourced the development:

  • you spend all your IT funds upfront;
  • receive a web-based application;
  • begin contract delivery; and
  • … then you start realising everything that you forgot to ask for!

It does not matter how hard you try to write a “perfect specification”, reality will laugh at your plan.

At 3SC about 30% of the development effort happens before the contract goes live.
The remaining 70% accounts for improvements made over the life of the contract. This is possible because we pay our developers a salary rather than a day-rate

 

Working closely with the contract managers, the developers routinely spot manual steps which can be replaced by digital automation, such as the following examples:

  • Someone is collating a monthly performance summary and emailing it to their manager?
    Now there is continuously updating live summary available, which the manager has access to.
  • Someone is checking if the criteria for a payable outcome has been met?
    A background process now performs these checks and automatically adds outcomes to invoices.
  • Someone is verifying if the suppliers’ invoices are correct?
    The application now generates the correct invoices on behalf of the suppliers.
  • Accounting prints an invoice, stamps it, scans it, then emails it back to you?
    Now the application automatically applies an image of the stamp’s imprint.

Individually none of these examples pay for the developers but there are several dozens of these small optimisations, and these are repetitive tasks.   Shaving 5min off a workflow here, saving 10min there; it all adds up.

At 3SC in house development allows us to continuously fine-tune the applications through which we manage our contracts, reducing manual tasks where possible. Cumulatively digital automation saves us several new-hires per contract, and ultimately enables us to remain competitive but profitable in the age of austerity.

 

 

Welcome to our July/August summer issue

A very warm welcome to the latest issue, number 4, of 3SC’s online magazine, 3SC Impact, which is a double issue for July + August, taking account of the holiday season.

We certainly are living through interesting times, whether it’s football or politics. For 3SC more specifically it is highly gratifying to see that the Government has decided to strengthen the Social Value Act which was one of the recommendations in our first Position Paper. David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said at the end of June that commissioners will be required to take social value into account when awarding contracts to the private and third sectors. Change does happen; progress is made; it may not be at a speed that some want, but policy does seem to be moving in the right direction.

Because this is a double issue, we have packed it with twice the normal contents. There are a variety of shorter stories, a couple of longer interviews, and lots of insights into what 3SC stands for, and does. We are keen to widen our network of colleagues and partners, and would love to hear from you. So despite the surprising amount of peculiar events going on – whether it’s the remarkable summer so far, or the confusing back and forth over Brexit – just remember one thing: life goes on!

Best wishes,


John Swinney, Chair of 3SC.

The Public Sector Finance Conference 2018

Given the growing financial pressures placed on local authorities, this year’s Public Sector Finance Conference is the ideal platform to assess the future of funding and financial management, whilst examining practical solutions to ensure efficiency and capitalise on innovative commercial and income generation opportunities.

With the MHCLG sharing updates on the progress and implications of the Fair Funding Review, you can join them on the 10th of October in Central London to examine the next steps in business rates retention, as well as securing value for money and financial sustainability in the delivery of high quality services.

The morning keynote speech is by Stuart Hoggan, Deputy Director, Local Government Finance Settlement & Directorate, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
The theme of his talk is: Developing Secure Foundations for Local Government Finance

  • Reinforcing the commitment to support local government funding by giving English councils access to more than £200 billion in funding over five years
  • Outlining the future of local government funding and budget allocations as per the 2018-2019 Local Government Finance Settlement
  • Giving 97% of councils certainty over their funding through a four year settlement
  • Exploring the current state of play for the Fair Funding Review: seeking new and more responsive ways of distributing funding
  • Implementing the latest phase of the Business Rates Retention Programme and providing councils with greater freedom to raise and retain revenue in their areas

Also, Aileen Murphie, Director, DCLG and Local Government Value for Money, National Audit Office will be outlining the process of auditing local authorities with increasing capital requirements and how to comply with NAO value for money requirements.

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Housing First pilot

James Brokenshire, the Housing Secretary, announced a new Housing First pilot to get rough sleepers off the streets of Greater Manchester, the West Midlands Combined Authority Area and the Liverpool City Region. These schemes will involve the development of Housing First provision which puts the emphasis on finding individuals a secure and affordable home to live in, while providing them with expert support to rebuild their lives. Housing first is a model originally developed in the US that has now been piloted with considerable success across Europe. 3SC are looking at how they can be involved in the delivery of the pilot in the West Midlands.

GLA Young Londoners Fund

Sadiq Kahn, the Mayor of London, has launched the GLA Young Londoners Fund, to provide a range of services focusing on employment, skills, being active and community involvement targeting young people from the ages of 10 to 21, who are at risk of exclusion or involvement in criminal activity and young people who have already been involved in criminal activities. The current tender has a total value of £15 million with most of this money being let as small grants of less than £50,000 a year. 3SC is exploring whether some of the larger grants available would suit a consortium approach. Details can be found here and the application deadline is midday 9 July.