Effective engagement with the 3rd Sector, County Durham

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • General resources

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

County Durham Children and Young People Service

Local authority/local area:

County Durham


The context and rationale

Durham County Council has re-focused and re-designed the commissioning of its services for children and young people, where possible through voluntary and community organisations. This has been done by working with the local Communities of Interest under the direction of the Children’s Trust Executive Board.

Drivers
In line with all local authorities, there are continuing financial constraints and limited funding for delivery of public services as the Government tries to tackle the national deficit. 

Funding opportunities for the voluntary and community sector (VCS) are increasing and in most instances bid proposals need sign-off from the local authority. It is imperative everyone works together to ensure that the most effective and efficient services are provided in County Durham, delivered by a wide range of organisations to the children, young people and their families to achieve the best outcomes for them. 

Background
In County Durham, there is a vibrant voluntary sector (approximately 2000+ organisations) and a wide range of service providers, ranging from very small organisations (for example ‘Fishing with Tom’) to large organisations (for example Disc, Barnardo’s), that deliver services to our children, young people and their families. 59% of contractual spend is with the VCS. 

Durham Children’s Trust has robust support and communication systems in place through the local Communities of Interest (COI). In order to facilitate effective communication and recognising the diversity in needs and service delivery across the County, 5 local COI groups exist. A further county wide COI group exists with local representation on this group. The County Wide group ensures consistency across the county and appropriate representation within the Children’s Trust. Through the COI structure and the representation of the VCS within the Joint Commissioning Board (sub-group of the Children’s Executive Board) commissioning activity recognises the enormous diversity and complexity of the voluntary and community sector throughout the county, as well utilising the potential and the capacity of the sector to deliver high quality needs led services for children and young people. 

As stated within County Durham Compact, an independent and diverse voluntary and community sector is fundamental to the wellbeing of society. The sector provides vital services, responds to needs, advocates, and campaigns as well as providing opportunities for individuals to volunteer and so contribute to the development of their communities.

The COI was established in 2009. The VCS engagement worker (employed by CYPS) provided a close link with the VCS, supporting the VCS in building capacity, ensuring good communication, etc. Due to financial constraints, this post was deleted in July 2010.

Both the VCS and the Children’s Trust were committed to continue and build on the work of the COI. The following proposal was the next step in the development of the Children’s Trust’s relationship with the COI. The proposal aimed to ensure the continuation of VCS engagement, market stimulation and capacity building. The objectives are as follows:

• ensure effective representation and engagement with the third sector at strategic and operational level to inform, improve and deliver services to children, young people and their families;
• improve communication with regards to Children’s Trust priorities and opportunities to the third sector;
• support the third sector in being tender ready;
• support small voluntary organisations that do not always have the capacity or viability to tender for CYPS contracts;
• maximise opportunities for collaborative working through funding that becomes available to the third sector in order to achieve our joint priorities.

The proposal was a contract consisting of three elements, awarded through an open process with the objectives of:

• supporting the ongoing representation and engagement of the COI at CYPS strategic and operational level; and build capacity within the third sector by developing a consortia framework;
• providing opportunities for technical competence building;
• engaging in effective market engagement to communicate opportunities and promote co-production in the design of services to meet need.

The practice

The journey so far:

ELEMENT 1: The Contract

In June 2011 the Children’s Trust commissioned a third sector provider to work in partnership with the COI to develop a consortia framework that supports the VCS and provides opportunities for collaborative working across Co Durham. 

The contract was awarded to Cornforth Partnership for 6 months. Due to the success of this contract, further funding was secured for 3 months through the Transition Fund. The Children’s Trust decided in January 2012 to let a further contract to the Cornforth Partnership to continue to build the framework. This is now in place and has attracted further investment from the Teenage Pregnancy Commissioning strand.

The key elements of the contract were as follows:

• Engage with COI groups in the development of the Consortia Arrangement Framework and in doing so ensure support is provided to all 5 Communities of Interest across County Durham to engage with this and develop local consortia

The Partnership met with all local COIs and the Children’s Trust participation workers to raise awareness about the project and to highlight the aims and objectives. The Partnership utilised these meetings to look at how best to engage with the smaller VCS, identify potential partners and to plan a series of Development Days across the region. Five such days were held (in Derwentside, Durham & Chester-le-Street, Easington, Weardale and Teesdale) and were well attended. Support packs were produced for all participants and these included discussion papers on Exploring VCS Consortia across County Durham and Structures for Collaborative Working. The packs also included Tender Ready Check Lists, membership proformas and sample agreements. They were designed to provide comprehensive information about collaborative working and highlight issues for potential partners to consider. Feedback from the events was extremely positive and agreement was reached in all areas to move forward with all those organisations that are currently ready for consortia working. 

• Review the learning from existing Consortia Arrangements across the Children’s Trust VCS COI Network in County Durham and also draw on regional learning 

The Partnership has been able to draw upon its experience of setting up a consortium in the Sedgefield area, utilising Sedgefield’s COI and previous research carried out into options for collaborative working. Partners have also been able to bring their own experiences of working as sub-contractors, lead bodies or informal partners in service delivery to inform the development of an appropriate framework. 

The existing County COI has proved to be an ideal vehicle for the development of the project as it has been able to build upon existing effective networks.

The Partnership also reviewed the Office of the Third Sector’s ‘Working in a Consortium’ guide and these have been distributed through the packs and used to inform the decision making process.

• Develop assessment tools that will ensure clear criteria are met regarding consortia entry. Identify how those organisations that do not meet the criteria will receive capacity building support

A membership proforma has been developed and circulated to partners and clear criteria have been established. The proformas ascertain whether organisations are tender ready and meet safeguarding requirements. They have been designed as a user friendly PQQ. They provide a wealth of information about individual organisations and highlight the services they deliver.
All who require additional help are signposted to the CVSs or One Voice Network, depending on their individual needs. The organisation CAVOS (which supports community and voluntary action) has made organisational files available to local groups and a Tender Ready Check List has been provided by One Voice.

The Partnership has already collated 37 completed proformas, from both small local groups and larger regional organisations. This is an organic process and we expect to see the numbers rise over the coming months.

• Identify gaps in current service provision to children and families, in line with the Children’s Trust Key Improvement Priorities, and develop approaches that have the potential to address this unmet need

This key element was built in as part of the Development Day agenda; each event involved group sessions on identifying key local issues and discussions about how a consortium may offer local solutions. For example, Sedgefield has identified children and families with complex needs as being a high priority and has pulled together a group of partners to adopt a collaborative approach to apply for funding from a range of external sources. 

At the development days it was recognised that a collaborative approach would have the potential to develop new services and meet unmet need. However, it was also recognised that to lead on a consortium bid would require specific capabilities from an organisation. It was agreed to identify those organisations that are willing and able to take on this role within the County. 

A meeting was held with the lead officers or CEOs of these organisations to open discussions as to how we would select lead bodies should County consortia bids become available. All of our main County and regional organisations have indicated a willingness to engage in the process. A consortium agreement has been drafted, circulated for comment and has been agreed.

The VCS has also identified an opportunity for further work with the local authority, to explore how their work can influence and impact on strategic commissioning. 

• Identify potential funding opportunities for consortia developments and delivery

As the project was being rolled out an opportunity arose to submit a consortium bid to The Big Lottery Fund’s Improving Futures programme. This provided the ideal opportunity to test out this new approach to collaborative working.

• Pull together a clear map of VCS expertise in the delivery of services to children and families to include within the framework.

The project has also been exploring IT solutions. An issue that has remained problematic, despite many years of surveys and mapping of the sector, has been identifying who is working in the VCS and what are they doing. After discussions with many partners who currently hold a range of information about the sector, we met with representatives from the NHS to discuss their IMPACT database and website. This was looked upon as an ideal interim solution for a number of reasons. It currently has permanent funding behind it so sustainability is not an issue. It provides a ready made web interface to enable use by anyone with web access. Thirdly and most importantly for the VCS, it is written in open source code (i.e. the programme is not bespoke and can be updated and adapted by all developers). This ensures that information put into the system is easily accessible and can be easily extracted and placed into a new database if required in the future. 

The current database and web interface is being adapted and amended to ensure that it is compatible with our services.

ELEMENT 2: Capacity Building

Bi-annual training is delivered by Durham County Council Corporate Procurement to the third sector to facilitate technical competence. This opportunity is published extensively and has proven popular with the COI.

ELEMENT 3: Communication

Quarterly a procurement newsletter is distributed through the COI to the third sector, providing brief details of contract awards and upcoming opportunities and thematic market engagement events. The market engagement events are designed to communicate the Children’s Trust’s priorities and upcoming opportunities, and engage the market in specification development, market stimulation, etc. 

This development is driven through the Children’s Trust Executive Board and therefore includes all statutory partners.

Achievements so far

Measures of success:

• % of providers that are signed-up to the consortia framework.
• A responsive third sector market that ensures all services are delivered in accordance with needs and at the right price. This will be measured by the number of contracts awarded and service user satisfaction.
• Comprehensive VCS profile for Co Durham to inform commissioning and planning.
• Increased consortia membership activity in improving outcomes and delivering the priorities set in the Children’s and Young People and Families Plan.
• Examples of ‘added value’ through working in partnership to secure funding available to the third sector that compliments and delivers against our joint priorities.
• Numbers attending market engagement events

Evidence so far:

• Established consortia framework and agreement
• 34 organisations have joined the consortia framework since July 2011, and 36 are waiting to be signed-up
• VCS database in existence 
• Support toolkit available
• The first Market Engagement Workshop was held in October 2011 and was a resounding success with 64 cross sector providers attending the event
• 2 tender specifications (social norms and Short Breaks Plus) that were improved and informed by the experience of the third sector
• VCS played an integral part in a recent Ofsted inspection where Co Durham safeguarding was rated as Outstanding.

The social norms tender was awarded recently to a consortium of larger and smaller organisations. This project will see social norms work being delivered in all 36 secondary schools and academies in Co Durham, building on established relationships between various VCS organisations and schools.

The effective representation and engagement of the COI has enabled the Children’s Trust to reach families that would not normally engage with statutory services to improve the delivery of aspects like the Common Assessment Framework, chlamydia screening, etc. 

Third Sector Partner Comments 

‘In terms of Action for Children’s position, we would be willing to work within a consortium arrangement and to lead where appropriate. Where we could lead is likely to be either a) a large development where the lead organisation was able to establish a new service with a team of staff; or b) where the development would link to our existing work in County Durham.’

‘Just what the doctor ordered in my opinion. The information sharing platform is a good idea, not in way exclusive and a way that is set up very service user friendly…’

‘Good stuff.’ 

‘My colleagues in adult mental health are very interested, and it is clear that the Council wants the sector (increasingly together with the private sector as partners) to go down this route.’ 

‘It was great to speak with you yesterday and really helpful... I would be grateful if you could forward invitations to your colleagues who work with families with multiple and complex needs, for example from deprived areas where unemployment is high, or where issues such as substance misuse, domestic abuse, poor parenting is evident . I have allocated 7 places for County Durham and 4 places for Darlington if you could forward this email on to your counterpart in Darlington... The contribution within your field is vital to the research element of the project and I am very appreciate your contact in Darlington.’ 

Slowly but surely the perception of ‘them and us’ is challenged and a trust relationship is being developed between statutory services and the VCS. Providers are key partners in identifying and achieving better value and quality of services.

For our children and young people it means:

• Everybody working jointly to address health inequalities 
• Better access to services due to collective knowledge base of services both statutory and non-statutory resulting in earlier intervention.
• Further evidence of impact will become available as contracts and funding opportunities are awarded to various consortia partners through an open and transparent process. 

Replication

Barriers/Challenges

• Gaining the trust of the VCS and changing perceptions. This can only be achieved through open dialogue and regular communication.

Cost

• Initial 6 month contract commissioned by the Children’s Trust to the value of £15,000 
• Further investment of £17,000 from the Cornforth Partnership to extend the contract until March 2012 
• For 2012/13, an investment of £25,000 for 12 months for the consortia contract 
• Current resource within the CYPS Contracts team supports the delivery of regular updates and market engagement events.

Key leadership behaviour characteristics
The following core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL see http://www.c4eo.org.uk/themes/files/resourceful_leadership_dcs.pdf). 

County Durham identified the following behaviours as key to the transformation of their service:

Openness to possibilities 
By being open to all possibilities Co Durham CYPS and the local Voluntary and Community Sector has re-focused they way in which they work together to achieve best outcomes for children, young people and their families. Through effective engagement we will continue to explore new ideas and possibilities in delivering high quality services that provide good value for money.

The ability to collaborate
Through effective collaboration we were able to refocus how we commission services to the VCS.

Personal resilience and tenacity
Through the personal resilience and tenacity of individuals in the VCS the new consortia arrangement has proven to be successful. These individuals were able to promote, negotiate and engage sceptical partners to consider and engage in the development of the partnership.

The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
Through the personal resilience and tenacity of individuals in the VCS the new consortia arrangement has proven to be successful. These individuals were able to promote, negotiate and engage sceptical partners to consider and engage in the development of the partnership, thereby creating and sustaining commitment across the system.

Golden threads: 
• Know your communities
• Culture not structure
• From good to great

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