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Using collaboration to improve sustainability

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Isle Help is an Advice Service Transition Fund project based on the Isle of Wight which has helped to improve the availability and sustainability of its Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) services in the area.

Background

Isle Help is an Advice Service Transition Fund project based on the Isle of Wight. The partners are Citizens Advice Bureau, AgeUK, People Matter, Footprint Trust, Community Action, and the Law Centre. The delivery objectives of the project are broadly in line with Cabinet Office recommendations following their review of the Not for Profit Advice Services in England published on 25 October 2012.

In summary, the project has helped to improve the sustainability of the advice service by improving collaboration, increasing service delivery channels, and creating a shared service hub. Our approach has ensured the successful continuation of the ASTF project as Isle Help has now been incorporated as a Community Interest Company and is now working as a funded strategic partner of the Isle of Wight Council.

The issues we faced

The major issue we faced from the outset of the project was increasing uncertainty over continued local authority grant funding. This issue was of particular concern to Citizens Advice Bureau and Age UK, as the local authority grant makes up a significant proportion of annual funding for information, advice and guidance (IAG). 

During the early stages of the project it seemed more than likely that IW Council would tender for advice services and follow the example of Portsmouth City Council who had let an advice services contract in 2012. Therefore it was important for the partnership to use the ASTF funding to position itself favourably in a bidding process by improving sustainability and the services that were provided to clients.

The actions we took

From the beginning of the project we ensured that Isle Help was positioned to assist the local authority to achieve its objectives, and prioritised project objectives that would have most beneficial impact for the Council. For example we introduced a shared services hub in a prominent position immediately opposite the Town Hall in the County town high street. 

The shared services advice hub has reduced the overheads of project partners, greatly improved collaborative working, and therefore improved services to individual clients. It has also provided self-service IT facilities that will assist the Council’s digital service provision programme and the introduction of Universal Credit. The location of the advice services hub has also increased footfall and served to improve the awareness of Council senior officers of the importance of voluntary sector services. 

The project has also introduced a three year strategy which was a clear indication of its intention to transform into a vehicle that could deliver long term benefit for the local community. The strategy lays out Isle Help’s strategic aims, values and objectives for the next three years. It was written to give deference to the IW Council’s own priorities referenced in the local authority three year corporate plan. This approach has given a clear indication to the council of shared priorities over the next few years. The strategy also includes an annual action plan with clear accountability for delivery of the 2015-16 objectives. One of the priorities of the Isle Help strategy is to introduce a prevention programme to prevent members of our from spiralling into crisis 

The 2015-16 Isle Help prevention plan uses existing management information to identify the most prevalent issues on the Island and profiles the clients most likely to come to Isle Help agencies for advice. The plan is already yielding benefit to Islanders as outreach for priority issues, such as debt and benefits advice, have been introduced into the lower level super output areas that suffer most from deprivation.

Positive outcomes

The project has been successful in a number of ways. From a service users point of view it has introduced a conveniently located advice hub with access to a range of IAG services. An internet based referral system has also been introduced which vastly improves the customer journey, and peripheral access to debt and welfare advice is now available at outreach locations prioritised by a comprehensive prevention plan. 

The success of the Isle Help project has significantly raised the profile of the voluntary sector with the local authority. The aspirations of Isle Help expressed in its strategy and prevention plan have convinced IW Council that it does not need to tender for IAG services. 

A strategic partnership is now in place between Isle Help CIC and IW Council that enables the council and voluntary sector providers to work together for the benefit of Island people. Its objective is to agree and implement a joint strategy for the continuing provision of advice, information and guidance at a time of increased demand and limited resources. The partnership will ensure continued public access to effective advice, information and guidance that will help people to better respond to debt, housing, health, welfare, employment, consumer rights and other issues. The partnership will also continue to ensure reduced costs and greater efficiency, securing the future sustainability of both council and independent voluntary sector agencies offering information, advice and guidance.

Negative outcomes

Currently there is only a potential for things to go wrong. In some ways the project has been a victim of its own success and it will be a priority for the board of Isle Help CIC to carefully manage expectations with regard to what Isle Help is capable of achieving. The austerity programme has prompted the local authority to consider Isle Help for a range of prospective services, but it will be important for capacity to be carefully considered throughout the lifetime of the partnership.

Lessons learnt

The outcomes from the project and the strategic partnership between the local authority and Isle Help CIC provide good evidence that the voluntary sector can be of enormous benefit to public sector services during periods of austerity. The voluntary sector has the necessary skills and expertise to develop and deliver long term plans for the good of the community.

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Page last edited Aug 08, 2017

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