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Survey results on SW Social Purpose Sector

South West Forum report published at http://southwestforum.org.uk/survey. Director Steve Woollett said:

"We were struck by the relatively fragility of much of the sector (almost half feel their unrestricted reserves are not safe) and the increasing difficulty organisations have in securing the funding they need for their work (79% are finding it more difficult.) Our sense also is of a sector divided, between those organisations that are doing OK and feel (reasonably) well equipped for the future and those that are struggling. Our survey also reveals a pretty disheartening picture of the (lack of) sector involvement in the development of (crucially important) Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) and devolution proposals."

The report concludes 


5.1 The state of the South West social purpose sector should be of vital interest to government; local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Local Enterprise Partnerships and other public bodies with strategic and/or commissioning responsibilities and public, private and voluntary agencies that (need to) work with social purpose sector to deliver their mission and achieve good outcomes for individuals and communities. Few question that the work of the social purpose sector, whether formally commissioned and contracted or not, is now critical to improving quality of life and wellbeing and delivering these outcomes efficiently, effectively and with reducing budgets. So all should take heed of our findings and other research into the sector including NCVO’s UK Civil Society Almanac 2016 and Local Giving’s Local Charity and Community Group Sustainability Report 2016.
5.2 We draw seven overarching conclusions from our research:
1) The social purpose sector appears to be divided between organisations apparently thriving and reasonably well equipped and confident about the future and those that are struggling, relatively poorly equipped and fragile. Maybe it was always thus but there now seems to be a much sharper divide between the haves and the have nots.
2) There is a substantial cohort of medium size organisations providing crucially important services which are fragile and seriously at risk of closure or making drastic cut backs in services because of their financial vulnerability and lack of resilience.
3) The sector is facing a funding squeeze from several directions and for the majority of organisations there is little prospect of reductions in grant and contract income being offset by increases from other sources. Coupled with the general fragility of unrestricted reserves this indicates that the long term sustainability of much of the social purpose sector, and the crucial services it provides, should be a real cause for concern.
4) Much more needs to be done to support and equip social purpose organisations to respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead and be better able to help the public sector cope with the unrelenting pressure on their budgets. Our findings show that the market driven approach to sector support is not working for many organisations and access to high quality support – especially for organisations not in receipt of substantial grant funding – needs to be improved.
5) Finding ways to help organisations to build and maintain unrestricted reserves at adequate levels should be a high priority for policy-makers, funders and support providers. This could, for example, involve grant funders allowing (even encouraging) recipients to allocate a small percentage of their grant to unrestricted reserves.
6) Funders, commissioners and social purpose organisations themselves need to recognise the benefits of modest investment in improving organisational capability, for example in sustainability planning, impact measurement and contract and commission readiness. The Comic Relief Core Strength 
Fund, Cabinet Office Impact Readiness Fund (which operated in 2015 and 2016) and BLF/Cabinet Office Local Sustainability Fund - all heavily over-subscribed – are good examples of investment in building capability but they need to be part of a longer term consistent programme of support.
7) Public bodies need to “walk the talk” when it comes to engagement and involvement of the social purpose sector and in implementing social value. The political, policy and legislative levers are available but too often the rhetoric of sector involvement is not matched by the reality on the ground.