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The narrowness of the debate around service delivery has excluded the argument and evidence for addressing the issue of cuts and delivering multiple services in a cost effective way, by reviewing what we mean by ‘service delivery’.

Between 2008 – 2011 CDF managed the £130 million, government sponsored, Grassroots Grants programme, which combined an £80 million grants programme and an innovative £50 million endowment match challenge. Over 30,000 community groups across England accessed small grants for projects in their communities. CDF’s evaluation shows that vast numbers of these groups were doing work that was part of the service delivery picture. The grant scope was £250 – £5000. 61 per cent of groups had an annual turnover of less than £5000 per annum. 44 per cent of groups surveyed reported an increase in volunteering as a result of the grant. Interestingly, for 37 per cent this was the first time they had applied for funds.

But because these were grants for small groups they were viewed as the ‘grant-dependent’, fluffy end of the sector. Service commissioners could benefit from looking more closely at the value and opportunity of these small investments, so this significant resource isn’t overlooked. The health warnings are the usual ones. We must resist the temptation to manoeuvre these groups into a prescriptive service delivery role, disproportionate to their size and capabilities, or skewing their raison d’etre by regarding this as a source of free labour.

There is a new opportunity for those with delivery responsibility to get involved locally through the Community First programme. It provides a safe route for public bodies to channel public money to the local level; £30m of grants will be allocated in nearly 600 wards across England, covering 5300 lower super output areas – the potential to work with around eight million people. The money is ‘allocated’ because each area has a potential pot of funding which it can draw down by matching it with in-kind time, cash and expertise. These projects are likely to throw up facets of ‘service delivery’ as they emerge.

Imagine a clinical commissioner who sees a persistent health need in the community, Community First presents an opportunity for them to target money as a match fund where the community has identified this issue as part of the community’s planning activities. It could, for example, pay for transport costs, to allow volunteers to visit elderly people returning from hospital, improving their chances of recovery. This subtle shift from grant givers and receivers, to collaborative planners and co-producers – at the lowest, but most impactful community level – reframes the concept of service delivery into something more meaningful for communities and people.

The evaluation report of the Grassroots Grants programme is available to download here.

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