It's really important to remember, however keen your local council may be to encourage you to take on a community asset, that the subsequent negotiations must be a two-way dialogue. Be prepared to stake out very clearly what your expectations and needs are from the outset and to 'walk away' if the deal is too skewed.
And try to ensure also that local ward councillors are fully aware of your plans and are prepared to put some time actively to help you to secure the kinds of support that you will need to make this a reality. After all you will be potentially taking responsibility for a public asset ( some may call them liabilities!) and it will be really important to demonstrate that you have thought through how you intend to be accountable for the actions that you take. failure to do this can crate resentments and divisions and blow apart groups as they struggle to make a succes of their project.
Good luck with this if you do decide to go ahead!
I thought this is a really useful insight into the benfits and challenges of Service Transfer. It would be interesting to know just how onerous it is to transform a group of like minded enthusiasts into a a body capable of running a complex organisation, particularly where the is no direct experience within the group. Where would they turn to for impartial guidance for instance?
Hi Matt. Great question.
I think there's huge variation in the size of services that have been transferred. At one end you might have a large service that owns multi-million pound assets across a district, and has similarly massive financial turnover (e.g. a housing association which has taken over local authority housing stock). At other end, you might have a small group that has taken over the running of a crucial service in their village (e.g. a local library), but their turnover is small. Irrespective of size however, you're question still stands, who provides guidance/support?
In terms of large service transfers i think there would be significant professional input. So if a local authority was transferring all its housing to a Trust, it'd probably transfer its staff as well. Such staff would probably work on the transfer process, and become accountable to a new Board (that is independent from the local authority). A smaller service might find it more difficult to get the technical support they need to stand alone, perhaps they will have energic and committed volunteers that build their knowledge/skills in their spare time.
My reflection, and something we stressed in our self-help work, is that such support for groups who want to run services is crucial - without it the Big Society really is just rhetoric. But it feel a bit like 'water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink'. There are so many people out there with specialised skills, knowledge and experience, and yet we fail to connect them to groups that need their help, or they can't find a way to financially sustain the support.
It would be great to hear from others who have tried to set-up a local service, and to hear who they approached for guidance and support, and whether this was useful.
The assistance for these groupd that you mentioned presumably would traditionally come from Local Authorities, but in the future with spending cuts, other groups would need to get involved. Maybe funding for this would need to become part of a standard package for Service Transfer?
I look forward to see how others have taken this on.
Thanks Andy, useful thoughts. During our interview you talked about 'intelligent commissioning' and creating a two-way dialogue before a service is transferred. I hope to use some these reflections in future videos. Perhaps we should dedicate one of the videos/discussions specifically to the commissioning process. Would the group welcome this?
Andy highlights very clearly the limitations of local government, and the flexibility of the third sector to respond to priorities and meet local needs. I'm interested in how far service transfer could go, and what long-term role councils have in local service delivery.
I agree, however, there are also huge challenges in involving all areas of the community, including those who do not traditionally volunteer or participate, who may lack confidence or specific skills, but still need to be represented. Like you Tom, I'd like to hear from groups who have made it work, and have managed to involve a range of community members, of all ages, and backgrounds.
An excellent point. Its easy to assume that certain groups can't deal with the complexity of taking over a service. But when I think about how social housing tenants have taken over the management of their services (and these are very complicated/high turnover services) I remind myself that tenure, income or location is not a determinant of capacity! I hope that a future video will look at Tenant Management Organisations.
As an aside, and given your work with Brathay, you might be interested in the work of the other Carnegie Associate who's looking at how young people can take over the ownership of land and assets (see here).
Agree very much with Andy's point about intelligent commissioning. For me, its critical that communities are involved from the start in designing the service/contract through to selecting who delivers. Such processes need to account for the added value of community providers.
Some years back I helped a Latin American elders group take over the contract for an elderly day care centre. Again, this experience chimed with Andy's point about the need for a 2 way dialogue. The group needed someone to help the ensure they were getting a good deal & not being shafted by the council. Building relationships with the officers across the council were vital.
In order to involve those you aren't normally involved then we need to start by doing two things - go to where they are, actually ask them to get involved & respond in a way that may interest & engage them (rather than bemoan that they haven't turned up to our meeting). This applies as much to the established voluntary sector as to the statutory sector. My experience of work with Travellers was that public, open meetings on sites always got people out in numbers rather than sat in chairs behind agendas.
As for impartial advice. There is less of this with the cuts. Much of it has been varying, the worst sort being checklists, toolkits & best practice case studies (this is our default position). My experience of supporting community based initiatives is that you need to immerse yourself within the community/project & avoid hiding behind your bits of paper. Be willing to not know. Help the group to listen to one another & find a common path.And encourage the groups to go & meet others which is far better than reading the sanitised learning of their hard graft. I can think of a number of projects that are worth highlighting for this type of work but a good starting point would be Marsh Farm Outreach in Luton.