So I’ve got a question that I’m struggling with at the moment. It’s attracting some mixed views in the office, so let’s put it out there for a wider debate.
Why is it so often the case that the public sector’s answer to working with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector is to create a job and additional resources within the public sector?
Now don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that you need to be “in it to influence it” I get that. We desperately need the voices of people that have experience of working within (not with) the VCSE sector within that space and within those positions, but my concern is that this is only part of the answer and it isn’t a substitute for getting smarter about proper cross sector collaboration with the VCSE sector and the wider community. The risk is that it starts to be seen as one person’s job, not as an approach and a different way of working that needs to be embedded across the whole system
There may be an issue around trust here. I’ll use the NHS as a current example. I think our friends in the NHS truly do see the value of working with us and that they realise that the answers to their questions and aspirations around the social determinants of health, person centred care, asset based approaches etc. don’t lie within the NHS and can’t be answered by the NHS alone. The VCSE sector and the wider community have a massive role to play in the transformation of health and care (as discussed in my previous blog- “Who Decides What Health Means: Part Two”) but conversations (and there have been many, many conversations) always seem to end up as someone’s job somewhere within the safety and control of the NHS. Up to now we haven’t seen any investment in Manchester to enable VCSE organisations to have the time and capacity to really have a role and shape decisions. This is despite some recent high profile pieces of work from the NHS England VCSE Review and the Greater Manchester Memorandum of Understanding making it clear that input from VCSE organisations isn’t free. The irony is that we invest a lot of our own time and resource in this as a sector. Sometimes, the NHS then recognises its importance and resources are found, but they stay within the NHS. Why are we still seen as people who are commissioned to deliver services and not seen as equal partners with a valuable contribution to make?
I’ve seen so many of these jobs flying around. I’ve even been actively encouraged to apply for a number of them (which is lovely) but the worrying message that I’m getting over and over again is that the most useful thing that I can do for the voluntary sector, is leave the sector that I’ve worked in my whole working life for a career in the NHS. Now apart from the very attractive salaries (in some cases almost double what I’m earning now) I don’t particularly want to work in the NHS. I’ve got nothing against the NHS, or the people that we work closely with, but I want my role in the VCSE sector and the role of the brilliant organisations that we work with to be equally valued. Ironically I think that the qualities that they need and that are absolutely the strength of people working in the VCSE sector would be completely squashed and squeezed out of us within the institutionalised structure of the NHS. The ability to work flexibly and respond quickly. The freedom to work across sectors, innovate, take risks, fail, but more importantly learn from failure. Not waiting for permission. Seeing an opportunity and following it through. Exploring approaches that don’t fit neatly into the various plans and strategies that we see. I once joked that I would be fired within a week if I worked for the NHS, but it’s probably true.
So can we please have a more even balance of brilliant people from the VCSE within the NHS, alongside recognition that that our time, skills and expertise within the VCSE sector, doing the work that creates change on a daily basis isn’t free, but our views, knowledge and expertise are being missed because the majority of groups doing brilliant work in Manchester just don’t have the time to share them. The groups who absolutely get this and have links within communities and the kind of relationships and reach which are needed, are so busy “keeping the front door open” and delivering services with increasingly reduced budgets that they don’t have time to come to meetings and workshops. Our voice and opportunity to contribute and influence is being missed because the focus on us as providers who deliver services is valued as greater than our role within the system as partners.
It’s important to do a good job, but it’s also important to be part of the system.
We need to think differently about cross sector and place based collaboration, but with both the relationships AND resources to make it happen. It’s the only way to truly transform anything.
Which leads me nicely into my next blog exploring our systems leadership approach in South Manchester.