Last week I wrote about my issues with the way Birmingham City Council were consulting with the Third Sector on their draft strategy  – you can read that post here

Following that post, the Corporate Strategy team got in touch and asked me to feedback directly to them.  I was happy to do so and feel well listened to – so I do encourage organisations to challenge the Council to do consultation better they seem to welcome it.  I think it is important to keep it online and open, if we are going to have a real debate.

Here is my response:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I will begin with the problems I have with the strategy and consultation and then hopefully suggest some positives. I hope that is helpful.

My main concern with the consultation document is that it makes a set of assumptions, the language isn’t really clear, it does run contrary to much of the findings in the Kerslake review and most importantly of all (to me) It is no different to any consultation that has gone before. 

The main assumption that it makes is that you will agree with the priorities, even though you get a chance to say that you don’t at the beginning, throughout the rest of the document it asks “Are they the most appropriate key themes to support the achievement of the priorities?” – well if you don’t agree with the priorities that question is hard to answer.

On the subject of the priorities – what are they? – I couldn’t see them laid out under any heading called ‘priorities’ – There is strategic vision, goals and desired outcomes – do these add up to priorities – unless I am missing something, I am afraid that the language is inconsistent. 

In terms of themes – this is where it most feels like it has all been said before and there is nothing new. How are partnerships going to be better, when are they to be established and around what? who is accountable for them being fair and equitable?

I ran an organisation that provided health and social care support services to the city and the NHS, it sat in the Third sector, the Compact principles never helped when we were poorly treated or paid late or not involved at an early stage – I know many other Third sector organisations who think the Compact was not effective and certainly have not seen it in use for many years. 

A recent example of poor partnership working between the Third sector and BCC was: During the Social Inclusion process I gave hours and hours of my time, I led on areas, I fedback lots of views, I saw nothing and no benefit from this whole process i understand nothing came of it. Yet no reference is made to it in the document. I want to see what was learned, even if it wasn’t implemented – what happened and how much was spent? and how can we ensure that mistakes won’t be repeated.  

Positive things that I think need to be done:

1. Key activities than need to be undertaken in the City: either because they are statutory or Birmingham has an unacceptable level of inequality around a particular area. – This was what I understood the JSNA to be, however that document is dated 2012 and is rarely mentioned. It generally says what we all know. There are severe discrepancies in the city which need to be addressed. All citizens need a basic level of services, however some are in more need that others and services need to be weighted in those areas. 

2. An inventory of all Third sector provision of these activities (ideally public sector provision too) – Community assets – I know a lot of this work was done during the social inclusion process. – 

3. A rating of all the provision against clear outcomes – this will be much work for the Third sector, they do not (in my experience) systematically collect evidence against outcomes and therefore respond more with moral/social reasons for re-commissioning. This is a sharp change that is needed in the sector and they will not do it unless the commissioners hold them to account for their outcomes. nb this is different from micro managing their activity.  

4. Those organisations who do not achieve outcomes against the identified activities should be decomissioned or supported to improve. Those that do achieve should be expanded or invested in.

5. Contracts should be consistent and organisations should be paid at full cost recovery. (this should have some standardisation in here – drawn up and agreed by the organisations providing services)

The main issue the Third sector faces is that of crumbling infrastructure. Many years of one-year contracts has resulted in Third Sector organisation being unable to develop their infrastructure, training, data and information systems, investment in digital technology. All of which is what it needs to be efficient and add value.

The general feel, for me, of the draft strategy document is that it is more of the same – it talks in the future tense of what things can be like and makes no reference to the past or the present. It does not expect or demand that the Third sector is business like it should do both of those things to increase the role the Third sector can play in closing the inequalities gap in Birmingham.

I do not think the Third sector is one type of organisation, it shouldn’t be, but there should be standards that are manageable and demanding while being supportive of the change many of them would have to go through.

Sorry this is long, it’s a lot less than I want to say. But I am grateful for the opportunity to give my feedback.


Kind regards