The Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) have just allocated £67million over two years to 226 organisations through their Advice Services Transition Fund. This is a huge injection of funds into the advice sector, aimed at helping organisations devise means of being less reliant on public monies in the future, and to develop better partnership working. Only a quarter of the money awarded could be used for service provision.
Eight Law Centres headed successful bids to the Transition Fund on behalf of their local partnerships. A further twenty or so were partners in other successful bids. This means over half of the Law Centres in England received some Transition Fund money. We should be excited about the Fund’s potential but I fear that the structure of the Fund, together with the limitations on its use, will make little difference in the long term and, importantly, little difference to people’s lives.
Government was right to address the threat to the advice sector as a result of various cuts and policy shifts. The Advice Fund was welcomed as a timely initiative with the potential to secure the future of the not-for-profit advice sector for the benefit of communities. Developing infrastructure and encouraging new ideas for self-sufficiency was a good idea.
However, the current conditions imposed with the funding will not generate the solutions that Government was after.
What a damn pity.
There is a wealth of new ideas being developed out there. Some really good projects are being established. But there is a lot of duplication, similar projects being worked on by different organisations in different parts of the country, all attempting to solve similar problems independently of each other. Many wheels are being re-invented. There appears to be no mechanism for sharing and mutual learning. For example, does each local area need its own referral mechanism? Local content is required, certainly; but, at a time of major cuts to support systems for vulnerable people, should precious public funds be spent on developing many different local referral systems? Also, how will we know what has worked, what has worked better, and what has not? How will we build on the successes?
Government could have stipulated that the money was for trialing new kinds of services. It says it wants more advice to be delivered online but ‘channel shift’ is better done on a much larger scale than at local authority level. Therefore, the fund will not usefully enable this ‘channel shift’.
Similarly, with partnerships, it makes sense in some cases for partners to be regional and not local. We have an excellent partnership of Law Centres in the South West of England, working on reducing costs by sharing back-room services and developing other initiatives that complement and extend the work of local area partnerships or networks. The initiatives of the South West partnership could be of benefit to all. The Baring Foundation has recognised this and provided initial funding but there was no money in the Transition Fund to help it develop further nor to make sure others around the country could learn from it.
If you want to strengthen the infrastructure of advice services, would it not make sense to include the infrastructure that already exists? It seems crazy that infrastructure organisations like LCN and Advice UK were excluded from bidding. National umbrella organisations are well placed to come up with excellent bids offering great value for money. These would have provided ways to share learning from Transition Fund projects, and to ensure that successful initiatives in one part of the country were known about and built on in another.
The allocation of 25% of the pot to frontline services was welcome and will be put to good use – but really, it should have been much more than that. Government was aware of the need: it had just drastically reduced the legal aid budget and introduced major changes to the welfare system, which were clearly going to generate massive need for advice. Government could have targeted thefunds at this most pressing need, which would have had a significant impact on the lives of people seeking help.
If Government was concerned that organisations would simply take the funds and continue as before, it could have steered the funds through requirements, such as, using the funds to develop more streamlined mechanisms for providing services in partnership. In so doing, it would have enabled enhanced and extended service provision at a critical time. Such requirements would have also helped achieve the change that Government hopes the Transition Fund will secure. Yet it failed to do so. Another damn pity.
It remains to be seen what results will come from the Transition Fund. My worry is that much of the £67 million will be wasted; time will tell. I sincerely hope to be proved wrong – for the sake of the communities and people that we serve.
- Justice in the UK needs pro bono work - 5th November 2013
- Transition fund: how much of the £67m will be wasted? - 30th May 2013
- We ignored the real fight - 14th February 2013
- It’s a rollercoaster ride, not a precipice - 6th December 2012
- Renewed anger - 20th September 2012
- IOLTA: Every little helps - 17th July 2012
- What about our clients? - 1st May 2012