By Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS
Building on the renewal of the ACT Social Compact in 2011 and prompted by a number of significant changes in the policy and funding environment for community services, over the past four years people from across the community sector, working with and advocating to ACT Government officials, have provided information, analysed data, consulted with the workforce, listened to consumers and their advocates, conducted research and developed policy positions to inform a more strategic approach to planning development and provision of community services in our city and region.
The work has challenged both the sector and government officials, requiring us to think hard and differently about the causes of inequality and exclusion, drivers of demand for services, the relevance of organisation visions and goals, the suitability of organisation structures, the expectations of people who access services, workers, volunteers, governing bodies and funders and the needs of our community now and into the future.
We have brought together all this work via two agenda setting and future shaping pieces of work:
- Development of the ACT Government Human Services Blueprint, which outlines a mutually agreed framework for administration and implementation of human services across the health, justice, education and community services portfolios, and implementation of this framework via the Better Services Initiatives
- Development of a Community Services Industry Strategy that outlines a vision for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable community services industry that will deliver quality services to create more connected communities which will support and empower vulnerable individuals and families to fully participate in their communities and take charge of their own future; undertake community development to create social value, build social capital and improve living conditions; be a trusted voice on the needs of our communities with a strong evidence base that will shape policies and engage in social planning for the territory and its regions.
Underpinning this work has been a significant investment in community organisation capacity building via:
- Funding to support organisations to meet the Equal Remuneration Order wage rises
- Community Sector Governance and Financial Management Initiative (providing up to $20,000 in consulting support to organisations)
- Sector Development Program Seminars (covering working with government, organisational sustainability, tendering and procurement, and strategic risk management)
- NDIS readiness funding, including Ready4
- Sector peak body learning and development programs for the workforce and for organisations.
However, there have been significant risks associated with major, concurrent changes in policy settings, service funding, provision and procurement that have not been well recognised or managed.
ACTCOSS hosted a summit in February this year in which 52 service user, consumer advocacy and service provider representatives gave their perspectives on the impact of social service reform on continuity, quality and sustainability of services. The summit considered what can be learned from people’s experience of service reform in the ACT, with a focus on improved planning, implementation and alignment of intentions and outcomes of reform.
The risks identified in this summit have informed ACTCOSS contributions to the development of the Community Services Industry Plan and evaluation and refinement of governance and implementation of the Human Services Blueprint.
There were several risks identified at the summit related to procurement that could not be addressed through these planning processes. The ACT Government Procurement Board have also identified some risks in procurement processes, and recently directed human service portfolios to work together to develop a strategic approach to procurement of services, with initial advice to the Board to be drafted by early 2017.
So, there is a shared interest in the community and in the ACT Government to better, more strategic planning of procurement of human services. ACTCOSS is interested in this work because we do not believe a universally fit for purpose approach to procurement of human services is operating in the ACT. We think changes are needed to align procurement strategy and processes with the commitments made in the ACT Social Compact, the ambitions of the Human Services Blueprint, the vision in the Community Services Industry Plan and the need identified by people who access services and people who deliver services for improved access, quality, continuity, sustainability and innovation.
ACTCOSS, with a co-contribution for some other peak bodies, has recently commissioned research that will inform our advocacy on procurement reform. We will work with our colleagues in other peaks, our members and the wider sector to ensure our collective knowledge and aspirations inform our advocacy on this important issue. If you are interested in being involved in this work please get in contact with Geoff Buchanan in our policy team via [email protected].