At the beginning of November I attended an event held by Oldham Council in partnership with Voluntary Action Oldham (VAO) to highlight the ‘ending gang and youth violence’ funding opportunity. The report of the same name outlines the government's plans to prioritise £10 million of Home Office investment in early intervention work in 2012-13 to support up to 30 areas 'most affected by gangs and youth violence'. Oldham in Greater Manchester is one of these areas (see all the areas and the funding allocation here). The funding is reserved for VCS organisations to encourage effective community led responses.
Oldham Council has already worked with local Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations to conduct interviews with young people to get their views on why gangs exist and what services are needed. They are also conducting ongoing research into the behaviour and criminal activity of gangs, or as Oldham Council termed it, “troublesome youth groups”. This includes collaborating with ‘Troubled Family’ leads by identifying cross over with targeted families and pinpointing some of the most ‘at risk’ young people.
This event asked the local VCS how they would design a service specification for the commission (worth £100k over 12 months). The council’s research findings were the starting point for a conversation rather than the stats that would dictate what services were to be commissioned. The outcome of the day was a real consultation with the Sector as to how services should be shaped, thinking through issues like;
- how mentoring could be provided,
- how to engage parents,
- the best way to change the behaviour of young people,
- how to develop partnership working,
- how referrals between organisations should work and
- what the evaluation criteria and methodology should be.
All in all, this was a rare (and very welcome) glimpse at commissioners stepping out to engage with the Sector at a strategic level early on in the commissioning process. You could question how much strategic engagement you can get out of a 3 hour meeting and some may question what the impact of this consultation will have on the final specification (time will tell). But you can’t dismiss the fact that Oldham Council are reaching out to the Sector. Responsibility also rests on the Sector’s shoulders to make the conversations meaningful and contribute positively to these opportunities.
Bruce Penhale, Head of Stronger Communities Service in the Neighbourhoods Directorate at Oldham Council commented that,
"We felt the pre commission workshop went really well. There was a lot of interest from groups, with 25 different organisations attending. They had lots to say about both the nature of the issue in Oldham, and how it should be tackled. The discussion helped us to shape the commission which will be issued later this month, and potential providers were able to meet and start thinking about how they might work together. It was an example of how we are trying to work with the third sector as a Co-operative Council. At the request of organisations, there is to be a further networking session where they can make contact with potential partners once the tender specification has been issued."
The challenge for VCS organisations is to start to think about how they can work together, especially as the Council was crystal clear that partnership bids or consortia approaches would be favoured. The specification will be written up with the intelligence gathered from the local VCS organisations, with an invitation to tender (ITT) being launched on 26th November. Seeing as the closing date for applications will be 11th January 2013 it will require some quick thinking on behalf of local providers to ensure that they can design and articulate a robust approach to meeting the Council’s desired outcomes and improve services for young people. This will be a test to see how quickly the sector can collaborate within what is a very competitive process.
VAO have agreed to continue to support local VCS organisations in Oldham as an impartial broker to support constructive dialogue between local providers. I will be keeping my eye on this development to see what the outcome is. In the meantime a useful way to publicise your organisation so that opportunities like this don’t pass you by is to contact your local infrastructure organisation and see if they’re tapped into the criminal justice world (if not, then why not?). You can also promote your organisation for free on Clinks' Directory of Offender Services.
Here are some questions to spark debate, use the comment facility below to voice your opinion.
Q. Are you in one of the areas where this fund is available? If so, what is happening in your area?
Q. Have you had commissioners approach you, or a group of organisations, to design a service specification? If so, what was the outcome?