Issue - decisions
Review of Community Grants Programme and Commissioned Advice Strategy 2018-2021.
The Head of Community Services had submitted a report which to update the City Executive Board on the review of the grants and commissioning programme and to propose how it can be further improved.
Councillor Brown, Board Member for Customer and Corporate Services repeated the key point that the overall resource available for advice centres would increase under the proposals as given. Councillor Sinclair, Board Member for Culture and Communities said the activities funded by the grants were invaluable and that the Council was committed to seeing that the money available was spent in the best possible way and in line with the Council’s objectives. It was essential that the Council and voluntary sector worked closely together to achieve that.
The Acting Communities Manager,drew attention to the proposal to move to a three year funding programme for both the commissioning and open bidding grants programme which would help with sustainability and long term security for community and voluntary organisations.
The Programme Manager for Revenue & Benefits, speaking about the proposed development fund for Advice and Money Management, said that the intention was to enable easy access to it. Officers would work closely with advice centres with the intention of giving them ownership of the fund. Importantly the fund would facilitate implementation of the recommendations from Advice UK.
Councillor Rowley, Board Member for Housing, remarked on the strength and value of the City’s advice centres, based as they are in areas of deprivation. Looking to the future, the best outcome would be for them to work collaboratively, to provide good quality advice across the city and, in doing so, derive some economies of scale. Conversely, the worst outcome would be if one centre bid successfully for the majority of the pot.
Councillor Tanner, Board Member for a Clean & Green Oxford, said that the advice centres should be given sufficient time to adapt to the new regime; the anticipated start of which in April did not give a great deal of time to address some practical issues.
The Board agreed with the recommendations subject to the addition of an additional one to require that there should be early discussion of the process of allocating the development fund referred to above.
The City Executive Board resolved to:
1. Approve the commissioning funding themes and enter into three year funding agreements with community and voluntary organisations through the commissioning programme from April 2018 (subject to a three year budget being approved by Council);
2. Agree that the Community and Voluntary Sector Infrastructure and Inclusive Arts and Culture commissioning themes are put out to open bidding from April 2018 and April 2019 respectively as outlined in paragraphs 20 – 29;
3. Agree that the Advice and Money Management commissioning theme retains a similar approach to strategic grant funding as now, but with the creation of a service development fund of £44,918 per annum as set out paragraph 35;
4. Approve a three year funding programme for the open bidding grants programme from April 2018 (subject to a three year budget being approved by Council);
5. Approve the proposals listed in the report at paragraph 46; and
6. Agree that officers should arrange early discussions with advice centres about the new arrangements for their funding.
The Executive Director for Organisational Development & Corporate Services submitted a report which proposed that a new model for funding advice services in Oxford is investigated in time to replace the current programme which ends on 31 March 2018.
Cllr Brown, Board Member for Customer and Corporate Services presented the report. She explained that the report had been rewritten after advice from the Scrutiny Committee.
The Council highly values the work of the advice agencies in the city and pays them a combined grant of £500k each year. However the government’s austerity programme and cuts to local government have put pressure on our community grants.
Council proposes moving to a commissioned advice system that fits with the objectives of our Financial Inclusion Strategy. We value the work of the advice centres but need to provide services fit for the future and are geographically equitable across the city. The review will consider how we could change services to make them more efficient. This does not necessarily mean having new advice providers.
A progress report will go to CEB in September.
Cllr Price asked what kind of bodies/cost will be involved in the review. The Benefits Manager said he didn’t have a fixed idea of who the reviewer would be but they would have advice services expertise and local knowledge about the sector. The review should cost less that £10k.
Cllr Tanner said that a review would be useful for determining value for money of advice centres. Centres often provide service cheaper than if the Council provided it in-house as they rely on volunteers.
Cllr Rowley said that advice centres needed to be accessible to everyone in Oxford but they also needed to retail hubs in areas of deprivation.
The County Council’s approach provides an example of how not to do it. Their single provider has led to a drop in the number of people being helped. He was glad officers were meeting with all advice centres as he felt a single tender with a single provider was unlikely to work. He felt there was a lots of potential if advice centres worked together to make improvements ie sharing volunteers, etc.
Cllr Price asked what the next step was and would other Members be involved in deciding the choice and management structure of advice services. Cllr Brown said she would know more in the next few months and would involve other board members when needed. The Executive Director of Organisational Change and Corporate Services said that other members could be briefed on developments at the Members’ financial Inclusion meeting.
The City Executive Board resolves to:
1. Agree that work is undertaken early in 2017 to evaluate the current provision of advice services in Oxford, and to compare this with different models of provision in other parts of the country.
2. Agree to commission an independent evaluation of services which proposes a new funding model which ensures that the outcomes of the Council’s Financial Inclusion Strategy are delivered.
3. Agree that all funding models should be considered in investigating the new approach, including competitive tendering, and retaining the current model.