A new report from the Wales Audit Office has highlighted that local authorities in Wales are not making the best use of the third sector, and must do more to ensure they work they are doing continues to secure value for money. Ruth Marks, WCVA Chief Executive, gives her thoughts on the report.
The report released by the Wales Audit Office highlights inconsistencies in local authorities’ arrangements for funding the third sector in Wales, making it difficult to demonstrate value for money from investment (despite an increase in funding from local authorities to the third sector – up from £68.7 million in 2001-02 to £248.8 million in 2013-14 according to the Local Government Data Unit). It notes that local authorities need to develop a clearer rationale for why they are working with the sector and to be clear about how this helps them deliver their priorities.
The third sector in Wales does all manner of work within local authority interests, from the environment to social care to supporting children and older people, and works in areas where councils have already outsourced activity, such as sport, leisure and libraries. The sector is innovative, passionate and committed, but it is important to remember that voluntary does not mean free.
As such, I think the sector is likely to welcome this report and will want to work constructively to build on its recommendations. County Voluntary Councils (CVCs) have a key role to play in their work with local councils, while WCVA works with WLGA and the Welsh Government. It is important that together we ensure a realistic and consistent approach to service provision, especially where the sector is providing support to people who can be in vulnerable circumstances, such as children, older people and refugees. A combination of grants and contracts is needed, as one size doesn’t fit the whole sector; however it should be noted that the report emphasises that cost is not the only driver of service provision – quality and impact are so important.
Following the report’s recommendations, WCVA would like to see local councils and local third sector groups, supported by CVCs, really focus on improving how we work together. WCVA and WLGA would offer support at a national level. Local compacts are especially important as a forum for improving relationships and consolidating joint working. By working strategically together we can build trust and bring better results for people and communities around Wales. This is even more vital in the context of new legislation such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act.
We would also like to build a greater understanding of the added value the sector can, and wants to, bring; and develop a proportionate approach rather than using a sledgehammer to crack a nut – there are significant risks around inconsistent practices.
The Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas, says: ‘We must ensure that partnership and funding arrangements are effective, efficient and are well-run, and continue to meet the needs of the many thousands of people who use and depend on them.’ I echo his thoughts. Effective, efficient and well-run arrangements will lead to stronger relationships between the sector and local authorities and better services for people around the country. I hope the self-evaluation toolkit for local authorities provided within the report will help this come to fruition.
About the author: Ruth Marks is Chief Executive of the WCVA, and formerly Wales’ – and the world’s first Older People’s Commissioner. A University College Cardiff law and history graduate, she has been a lifelong volunteer and has significant trustee experience gained from many charities and voluntary organisations, including as a trustee for WCVA from 2001 to 2008. She was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2007 for services to welfare work.