The Social Value Act: A great opportunity for the voluntary sector

By Grant Hayward, Director of Collaborent and specialist in cross sector collaboration

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The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires, by law, those who commission public services to consider how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits. It’s been around for a while now but has been criticised for not having real “teeth”. Recently though, it’s really gaining traction with 75% of local authorities now aware and taking action.

I was overwhelmed to see and hear about the impressive progress being made by pioneers in this field whilst attending the Social Value Summit in London on 7th February. Award winning examples of the ways the Social Value Act is being used to bring organisations together across sectors to address social needs, plug gaps in funding and create real business opportunities for the private sector. And that’s what I am all about!

It was also encouraging to hear Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, announce at the Summit another review of the Social Value Act. This, coupled with his recent announcement to help small charities win contracts is all good news to the voluntary sector. But these opportunities won’t just be served up on a plate. It’s the shrewd organisations in the voluntary sector that are grasping the chance to understand and leverage these opportunities to position themselves in prime position to benefit.

The opportunities will vary greatly, depending upon your organisation, your activities and services. But here are just a couple of examples: You might be commissioned to deliver services and could enhance your chances of winning contracts by building and demonstrating the Social Value you add over and above the services you provide. Or, you could use the Social Value Act to make you more attractive to businesses who are either providing services to the public sector directly, or have someone doing so within their supply chain. Most don’t even know it yet, but they will increasingly be seeking to demonstrate the ways in which they are adding Social Value in some way.

So, what Social Value do you add and how can you use it to gain competitive advantage and make your charity more attractive?

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Two interesting numbers…

By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks

Recently I’ve seen two interesting numbers relating to Buckinghamshire that have really made me think about our county; 43 and 11.  Forty-three is from the national homelessness figures and 11 from the State of Rural Services Survey.

Community Impact Bucks has a mission to improve the lives of the people of Bucks through working with charities and communities. We review the national data about rural living and guide and support community groups on ways to develop sustainable projects for a better life. (Training, events, community transport projects, good neighbours schemes, rural housing etc).

Buckinghamshire ranks as the 3rd most affluent county in the UK outside London. So it was a surprise to see the National Rough Sleeping Data record that on one night chosen at random for a survey, we had 43 individuals sleeping rough on our street in one snapshot count. While writing this I am looking at the rain pelting down and thinking of those people possibly huddling in doorways in our market towns of High Wycombe, Chesham, Aylesbury, Buckingham…

I was recently speaking to the people who run vital charities which are there to give hope and a lifeline to local homeless people.  They told me that this figure of 43 is an under count.  In reality, those few people counted are the very tip of an iceberg where many more are sleeping on sofas at friend’s houses or families who are having to stay with friends or relatives to stay off the street. When I expressed shock at the number of rough sleepers in Bucks and the comparative wealth of the county I was told that it can be harder to get services in counties where the deprivation is so concentrated. There are more people living rough in High Wycombe than Newcastle! The homeless charities then told me that things are getting worse with rough sleeping in Bucks rising by over 30%, caused by a combination of rent prices, fewer landlords accepting people on benefits and changes in benefit payments; all making it harder for people to actually pay the rents.

The second number of interest was the Rural Services Report (Rural England) that identified the average house price in Bucks being 11 times greater than the average salary. The average house price in Beaconsfield is £980,000 according to some surveys from 2015.

Both these numbers reflect real life situations and they feel incongruous and unsustainable.

Buckinghamshire is such a beautiful rural county and in some cases well-served by services but most of us just don’t see the real disparity that the fantastic organisations like Wycombe Homeless Connection and Aylesbury Homeless Action deal with every day.

Younger trustees: lessons from students’ unions

By Richard Brooks, Vice President (Union Development) at the National Union of Students and Chair of NUS Charitable Services Limited.

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It was a real pleasure to present recently at the Community Impact Bucks Trustee Conference. I spoke about the benefits of having younger trustees on boards. I argued it increases both the effectiveness of the charity and the sustainability of the sector.

I wanted to share learnings from students’ unions (SUs) – student-led charities with a major difference: students constitute the majority on the trustee board. This makes us a slight anomaly within the charity sector. Where the average charity trustee is aged 59, a few hundred students’ unions are bucking the trend – between ourselves handing the reins to an estimated 1,500 16-34 year olds each year.

As Vice President of NUS my job is to lead the consultancy our staff deliver to students’ union trustee boards. We are the experts in how SU trustee boards work, including how they have responded to challenges and opportunities brought by younger trustees.

To quote the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness (2014): “On paper, the SU operating model – effectively student and staff teams with a board comprised of largely inexperienced members who are also the key operating officers – is fundamentally flawed and should not work. Yet it does. Arguably better than other charities which have operating officers on their boards.”

Here are my four key reflections for the wider sector:

  1. Most students’ unions only became charities within the last 10 years. Even though the model isn’t perfect for us, we have benefitted enormously from standardising governance arrangements. This has allowed talent, knowledge and good practice to percolate into students’ unions from the wider sector, as well ensuring good career progression for our people. One particular strength of the charity model is it provides for a mixed board of students and lay trustees. This allows us to balance not just skills gaps by co-opting external experts, as is common, but also to form our boards in response to our key challenges. For example, we cannot avoid having high turnover rates – by design SUs have a different board composition every academic year – but this challenge is offset by recruiting lay trustees with longer terms and the duty to provide continuity.
  1. Younger trustees will come and go. Rapid turnover must not be feared. Our experience is that their ideas, energy and lack of pretentions will more than make up for any disruption the board might face. In any case it doesn’t require superpowers for a board to manage (and even embrace) a higher rate of change, a decent level of self-awareness and an appetite for disruptive thinking is more than enough.
  1. Younger boards need to be underpinned by constant induction and development activity. So by necessity students’ unions have developed a rolling programme of development for their trustees. But all trustees benefit from common activities such as team-building, introspection, audits, mentoring, coaching, independent reviews, strategic planning, mediation, conflict resolution, and peer support. Like any charities, cash is tight so activities have to be arranged on a shoestring budget but the key investment is in trustees making time for these activities in and out of meetings.
  1. Younger trustees are inexperienced and need support. However, this will not be the burden you think it is. This is an opportunity for trustees to act smarter, ask better questions of their organisation, and ditch lazy habits. Students’ unions have seen it can be a sharp wake-up call for any board to realise what shared responsibility means – that all trustees need have the right information to make decisions. Reams of raw data and no analysis are useless. This is brought sharply into focus in the context of an 18 year-old presented with intricate financial issues. Their inexperience does not release them from legal responsibility but instead demands that complex issues are broken down and presented free from jargon and obfuscation. The important point is every board we’ve seen which takes these issues of clarity and accessibility seriously will be rewarded with a step-change in performance. Asking smarter questions and ensuring everyone understands the answers inevitably helps organisations make the best use of resource, makes meetings more efficient and ensures malpractice is picked up early.

Finally, if you’re looking for great younger trustees to join your organisation the student movement is well endowed with them. We work with various sector organisations including Trustees Unlimited and TrusteeWorks.