Devolution and the Voluntary & Community Sector


Voluntary sector

What could stop them?

Greater Manchester Strategy

Ed Cox of IPPR cautioned in 2014 ‘we should be wary about getting too excited until the rhetoric become a reality’. The Taking Charge and Locality Plans could be viewed as a solid step forward in the devolution agenda, and the Voluntary & Community Sector-positive language is undoubtedly promising, however, at this stage it is still language. Alex Whinnom stated that ‘although all the right words are there…there is no guarantee that ‘alignment’ and ‘partnership’ will necessary translate into a share of the available resources’. The Manchester Evening News recently questioned whether the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was starting to look like an empty slogan, and, although both devolution and the Powerhouse are still in their relative infancy, organisations are right to be wary until words turn into actions.

Rhetoric of devolution

The devolution and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda has not been designed around or focused on the Voluntary & Community Sector and its strengths. McInroy argues that ‘the present agenda is undoubtedly narrow. It has come out of an economic growth agenda and it is not driven by issues of democracy or problems of national inequality or a voracious refocus on closing the gap between rich and poor’. This is a debate alongside NHS deficit reduction, transport, skills, planning, Chinese investment… In this context, is the Voluntary & Community Sector a priority for anyone other than those within it? Lee views the whole devolution process as ‘technocratic pragmatism’ involving a ‘series of elite-to-elite negotiations’; the Voluntary & Community Sector (and the public) have been informed after the agenda has been set.

Austerity and the voluntary sectorThe Rochdale Locality Plan is pragmatic in its assertion that the VCS has been ‘significantly financially challenged’. The sector is not operating in a climate of abundant funding, where the ability to explore new ways of working and collaboration can fit alongside their everyday functioning – organisations are stretched. At a recent devolution event, one attendee decried that ‘at this rate, there’ll be no VCS left to pick up the pieces if this all goes wrong’. Devolution is occurring in parallel to funding cuts, crises in mental health, increasingly visible homelessness, and greater demand for services. Funding for innovation, such as the ‘Transformation Fund’, has been accused of being unable to act as anything more than a ‘deficit mop-up’ within this climate

Strengths of the Voluntary Sector

The general thinking behind devolution is that it brings power closer to the local level; ‘subsidiarity’ is the buzz word of the moment and is a notion that could indeed benefit the VCS by moving their voice (and communities) closer to the decision makers. However, critics have argued that devolution actually involves an ‘upscaling to the regional level’. Organisations may find themselves functioning (and being commissioned/funded?) on a pan-GM level; Okotie surmises that devolution is ‘scaling up local strategic activity and thinking, and scattering in more layers of bureaucracy not less – adding in complexity and difference’. The VCS may find itself further away from the decision making table than it was before.

Bureaucracy and devolution

Every Greater Manchester Locality Plan references the VCS, all recognise its value and potential contribution to delivery. However, a recently quoted GM wide survey of the voluntary sector found that over 70% of respondents said they had no input into the Locality Plan for their area. VCS leaders, speaking at various devolution events, have revealed a level of uneven involvement across localities. For example, one GM organisation stated they were contacted directly by the authors of their area’s Locality Plan and asked to contribute, whilst an equivalent organisation in another GM locality stated they struggled to even see a draft of their Plan. Will inconsistent involvement in planning, result in inconsistent involvement in delivery and outcomes?

Critical thinking

• Cox, E (2014) Leading the Charge for New British Politics. In: VSNW, Devolution our Devolution: Perspectives on the Meaning of Devolution for Voluntary and Community Groups
• Dunhill, L (2016) North by North West: Devolution on a leash. Health Service Journal
• Gainsbury, S (2016) ‘Transformation Fund’ or deficit mop-up? Time for an honest conversation. Nuffield Trust.
• Hudson, B (2016) Will 2016 push the NHS over the edge of chaos? The Guardian
• Kirby, D (2016) Homeless people in Manchester sleeping in Victorian-style secret subterranean ‘cave’. The Independent.
• Lee, S (2016) The ‘devolution revolution’. In: Hayton, Giovannini & Berry, ed., The Politics of the North: Governance, territory and identity in Northern England, pp.17-19.
• Lowndes, V & Gardner, A (2016) Local governance under the Conservatives: super-austerity, devolution and the ‘smarter state. Local Government Studies
• McInroy, N (2014) A Devolution for All. In: VSNW, Devolution our Devolution: Perspectives on the Meaning of Devolution for Voluntary and Community Groups
• Okotie, T (2014) Devolution Revolution? In: VSNW, Devolution our Devolution: Perspectives on the Meaning of Devolution for Voluntary and Community Groups
• Schafran, A & Taylor, Z (2016) Post-Scriptum: Slouching towards Barnsley. In: Hayton, Giovannini & Berry, ed., The Politics of the North: Governance, territory and identity in Northern England, pp.17-19.
• VCSE Leaders (2015) Contribution of the VCSE to Devolution of GM – Letter to Tony Lloyd.
• Whinnom, A (2015) Opportunity Knocks. Charity Finance Magazine
• Whinnom, A (2016) VCSE Groups urged to act on health and social care plans: GMCVO Initial Review.
• Williams, J (2016) Five Reasons the Northern Powerhouse is starting to feel like an empty slogan. Manchester Evening News.
• Williams, J (2016) Manchester’s mental health services are in crisis and people are suffering – the human cost of the cuts revealed. Manchester Evening News

Strategic documentation

• GMCA, NHS in GM (December 2015) Taking charge of our Health and Social Care in GM: The Plan
• Bolton Council, NHS in Bolton (23rd November 2015) Bolton Health and Care 5 Year Locality Plan
• Team Bury (30th October 2015) Bury Locality Plan: Bolder, Braver Bury – Towards GM Devolution 2016 – 2021
• Manchester City Council, NHS Manchester (2nd November 2015) The Manchester Locality Plan – A Healthier Manchester
• Oldham Council, NHS Oldham CCG (18th December 2016) The Oldham Locality Plan for Health and Social Care Transformation
• Rochdale Borough Council, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale CCG (30th October 2015) Rochdale Borough Locality Plan for Health and Social Care and Wellbeing 2016 – 21
• Salford Council, Salford CCG (2nd December 2015) Locality Plan for Salford: Our Vision for a Healthier Salford
• Stockport Together (9th November 2015) Stockport Locality Plan
• Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Tameside and Glossop CCG (12th November 2015) A Place Based Approach to Better Prosperity, Health and Wellbeing: Tameside and Glossop Locality Plan
• Trafford Council, NHS Trafford CCG (November 2015) The Locality Plan for Trafford 2020
• Wigan Council, NHS Wigan (30th October 2015) Further, Faster Towards 2020: The Wigan Locality Plan for Health and Care Reform

Devolution and the VCS in GM was produced by the Lifeline Project