Last year I quoted Bob Dylan’s famous line that the times, they are a-changing. At the time of writing last year’s message, we all hoped that the changes made to our funding over the previous years, along with our own internal re-structure would bring some much needed stability after a challenging time to our sector and to VANL itself.
In reality I find myself recalling another great Bob Dylan quote at the start of this year’s message – ‘There is nothing so stable as change!’ The year has seen some excellent developments both within the sector locally laying down clear markers that the sector is resilient and vibrant, and ready to embrace new ways of work, and within VANL itself, but it has continued to be a time of change and challenge both internally and externally.
I posed some questions to the funders, those in government, and others last year.
- Is commercial really better in the sphere that the voluntary sector occupies? That is the delivery of support and services to people and communities where there is no profit and much disadvantage!
- Does this philosophy run the risk of eroding the difference factor the sector brings? Such as its closeness to the service user, its focus on meeting the needs as defined by that person, the filling of gaps and making of links?
Whilst no single answer has been forthcoming it is clear that there is no reversal likely in the current climate, and the sector must – and indeed –is responding with fortitude and challenge, and continuing to find creative ways to deliver the person-centred services needed, often to the hardest-to-reach groups and communities, as well as the core services which are no longer prioritised. I cannot commend the sector and VANL highly enough for their response to the continued challenges posed by funding cuts and decreased income, but I will pose a further statement and challenge to those who provide funding, those in government and others:
Many organisations on which communities and even statutory agencies rely for essential services no longer have any statutory or grant funding. Organisations to which local authority staff, healthcare workers and others refer – frequently and regularly – are now bereft of any funding. And yet these organisations are expected to deliver essential services – not just so-called Value Add services – with no resources.
(One such example is the local bereavement support charity CRUSE. They receive no funding from the statutory sector and are completely reliant on the goodwill of their extremely highly qualified volunteers, and GPs, employers and mental health services amongst others will refer to this service for any bereavement support. Schools refer, Social Services refer. In short paid services refer for bereavement support to a service that is delivered to their clients free at point of delivery and with no charge to those with funds.)
The simple truth is that this situation has reached its limit. Whilst the Voluntary and Community Sector can deliver more for less, it cannot deliver everything for nothing. And the time is coming, and soon, where essential services will be unable to operate. This will create a logjam into statutory services and other services and the build-up will create a need that can no longer be met.
Initiatives which involve VCS organisations as a stakeholder at the onset of service development, including the budgeting process, are to be welcomed, with an element of caution. It is clear that the statutory sector increasingly recognises the need to involve the VCS in the design process for new services. We await the next phase of involvement at the stage where finance is allocated, and this will test the relationship fully.
During the course of 2016-2017 we had to conduct further re-structure work within VANL. I should like to thank the staff for their patience and support during this process, and to acknowledge the huge contribution of long-standing staff members who left during the year. In particular, Carol Thornton was a well-known and much-loved member of VANL staff, and we miss her greatly in the office. Carol was a staff member from the beginning, and her husband Paul was a long-serving member of the Board of Trustees. Sadly, just a few months after Carol’s retirement, Paul was diagnosed with Cancer and passed away in June. He bore his illness with dignity and courage, and all of our thoughts are with Carol at this time.
We also were saddened to hear of the death of Harold Edwards, our former Treasurer, who served VANL and the sector locally with passion and vigour. Often challenging, Harold had an ability to see all sides of a challenge, and to present that in his contributions to the Board. As Treasurer, Harold oversaw many challenges to the finances of VANL, and helped to guide the organisation through many changes. We wish his family well.
In completing this message and reflecting on a significant year of change, it seems appropriate to end with another Dylan quote. It’s hard to speculate what tomorrow may bring. How very true.