Standing out from the crowd

By Matt van Poortvliet 22 March 2011


First used by cattle farmers, made popular by Labour politicians, ringfences are now out of favour. Where once a dozen different ‘ringfenced’ (ie, protected) funding streams supported young people, soon there will be a single ‘Early Intervention Grant’ to be spent at the local authority’s discretion. It will cover everything form children’s centres and short breaks to services for teen pregnancy and youth unemployment.

Take away the ringfences and you suddenly have a very crowded market where it’s difficult to separate sheep from goats. Charities will now need to make the case for their area of work (not just for their intervention) among a much wider range of competing needs. So far, the main victim seems to be youth services, which as the Children’s Minister admitted last week, are ‘bearing the brunt of the cuts’.

Is there anything that charities working with young people can do to make their case in this environment?

In his speech a couple of weeks ago, the Children’s Minister set out his vision for the future of the sector. It was a little short on detail, but reading between the lines, I think there are three main things that charities working with young people will need to do:

  • Target the most vulnerable young people. In a world with less money, there is unlikely to be funding for universal youth services. Charities will need to be provide strong evidence of how they target and support the most vulnerable young people and be pro-active in educating commissioners about why they should address a particular need.
  • Show willingness to collaborate. This includes involving young people in the design of services; drawing in support from volunteers and businesses in the community; and proving that you are pooling resources to reduce costs. Small charities with niche expertise and low costs may need to team up with larger organisations that can deal with commissioning processes.
  • Focus on outcomes. Funding looks like it will be directed to interventions that can secure clear results, particularly where this involves a saving to government. Early indications (eg, ‘reinvestment grants’ in the youth offending sector) suggest that government is looking to commission consortia to test ‘payment by results’. As the name suggests, the Early Intervention Grant is likely to favour approaches that can demonstrate that they prevent bigger problems downstream.

Adjusting to changes in funding structures is tough, and it is difficult to separate rhetoric from reality in ministerial speeches. But charities that can adapt to new priorities will be best placed to stand out from the crowd.

This is the third in a series of blogs looking at changes affecting charities in the youth sector. Previous blogs were on the need for evidence and the value of long-term support.