What are the risks associated with this approach?

October 23, 2012

At the beginning of the project planning when ideas were being developed, more consideration could have been given to the risks associated with the each of the projects.  Once the projects began to evolve, there was  a better  understanding of the importance of risk management processes.  The standard issues such as health and safety, first aid and minimum staffing levels began to be raised and addressed.  In addition specific projects had additional checks that were needed.  For example  the BBQ bike needed to be issued with a food safety certification and site visit and public liability insurance was required for the manager of poly tunnel which was placed on Lambeth Living land. The latter example raises real questions about assumed liability between parties should any issues have arisen (e.g. Lambeth Living, Lambeth Council or High Trees Community Trust who were awarded the funding to deliver the project).

There are also accountability issues and the need for transparency in respect of payment processes, especially as the protocol for was for the council to manage at arms length.   It was more expedient for High Trees to assume responsibility of the budgets for the majority of the projects for a small administration fee.   As a consequence this made High Trees Community Trust responsible for ensuring  that  project budgets were spent with probity and the planned outcomes delivered rather than the individual project manager.  Some of the projects have been delivered by project leads who are working alone, without the support of constituted groups or organisations.  It is important for future projects to consider well in advance the range of processes which need to be put in place to manage risk.


January round-up

January 27, 2012

As the first month in 2012 draws to a close, there are a few things from the last month that might be of interest.

Firstly David Cameron made a speech on 19 January announcing that the Government will introduce a Cooperatives Bill to Parliament before the next election. Currently more than a dozen statutes govern cooperatives and mutuals, with many being outdated. The Government’s plan is to consolidate these into one statute to make it easier for people to set up and run a cooperative. Currently there are no further details on the content of the new Bill, other than the press release from 10 Downing Street, but as soon as there are they will be published on the toolkit.

The London Community Foundation (formerly Capital Community Foundation) have updated the list of grants they administer that are available to organisations in Lambeth. These include:

  • Lambeth Festivals and Outdoor Events Fund;
  • Lambeth Community Fund; and
  • Santander Social Enterprise Development Awards.

For more information on these funds and others, visit London Community Foundation’s website – you might want to consider signing up to the e-bulletin to receive news about the latest funding opportunities.

Moves continue at a national and European level to ensure public procurement rules can support local jobs and businesses. Chris White MP’s Private Member’s Bill has gone through its third reading in the House of Commons will receive its second reading in the House of Lords before the end of the month. The Public Services (Social Value) Bill aims to strengthen the social enterprise business sector and make the concept of ‘social value’ more relevant and important in the placement and provision of public services. If passed it will require local authorities, when entering into public procurement contracts, to give greater consideration to economic, social or environmental wellbeing during the pre-procurement stage.  More information can be found in an interview he gave to Third Sector News.

Just before the end of December, the European Commission published revised public procurement directives, following a consultation through 2011. The proposed changes include:

  • Greater flexibility to negotiate
  • Simpler rules on dynamic purchasing systems
  • The ability for procurers to evaluate suppliers’ past performance
  • Enablement of electronic marketplaces
  • More flexible and less burdensome rules on supplier selection
  • Faster procurement through shortened time limits

Further information on these proposed changes can be found on the Cabinet Office website.

The council has continued to look at procurement processes and a recent seminar for council officers explained how to include community benefits in new contracts and tender processes. The slides from the seminar are available here, and will be useful to both commissioners within the council and people from organisations interested in bidding for work with the council.

In December the Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons published a report into the Government’s Big Society initiative. The Committee’s findings included a warning that the Government’s plans lack clarity and need an implementation plan, and that the Government should consider creating a ‘Big Society Minister’. The report also calls for greater clarity on the roles of charitable, private and public providers of public services and urges ministers to outline how issues of accountability in terms of quality and regulatory powers will be managed in the Big Society project, and in particular accountability for public expenditure.  The full report is available on the House of Commons website. Of particular interest to the cooperative agenda are the sections on Social Impact Bonds and Public Service Mutuals.


January 4, 2012

Part of cooperation must surely be telling voters about what’s happening in a way which addresses their needs and concerns. For coop or big society (bigsoc) to seem more than a cynical ploy to get us to sweep our own streets and run our own libraries, government must tell it like it is and in a way we can relate to.

My qualification for writing this is my being a council-tax payer and voter here in Oval-ward, and I hope I can help cooperative projects by suggesting ways in which they can inform the public about what they are doing. I suggest that this should be done in a way which accords with present trends and concerns in the areas of public spending, local government, the third sector, volunteering and localism.

Politicians may want to keep stretches of clear water between their parties’ ideas and others’, but Labour’s coop council and the government’s big society are both responses to the same situation and involve similar concepts.

The context for both coop and bigsoc is that of economic uncertainty, public spending constraints, protest (like the occupy-movement) and disorder (like the summer’s riots). Both coop and bigsoc movements also talk in terms of greater public involvement in:

  • decision-making about
  • delivery of

public services. I therefore suggest that coop/bigsoc projects talk to the public by referring to that context and to those concepts.

Promoters of projects understandably want to highlight those undertakings’ benefits and to namecheck the projects’ sponsors. The trouble with doing only  that is that a scheme can sound like just another government/quango plan with a snazzy (if incomprehensible) title. What it implies is: “here are some more government-funded agencies spending more of your money on something which may or may not benefit you”. It doesn’t really sound that cooperative, does it?

Coop/bigsoc projects can be better described in terms of:

  • how voters have been involved in deciding to do this thing
  • what practical contribution is being made by voters
  • what proportion of funding is from taxation and what proportion comes from individuals and business
  • how the project will deliver practical benefits and help with social cohesion
  • what the reader can do to get involved in this and/or similar projects.

For a project to be truly cooperative, involvement in decision-making can’t be restricted to voting for the council once every four years. However democratic things may be, Labour governs Lambeth with the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate. I suggest regular ward-based meetings, convened by councillors and reinforced through social media.

While funding may appear to come from independent organisations, communication needs to be transparent in terms of saying how much of the money actually comes from national government grants, council-tax and other sources which are really us taxpayers. I expect a lot of voters would be surprised to know how many charities rely significantly on state-funding.