Why is Merton handling the budget cuts so well?

There's no one thing Merton has done which has enabled them to weather the financial storm so well so far. Rather, it's a long tradition of partnership working between the sector and local public bodies which means the natural reaction to difficulties is to work together on solutions. Mutual respect, trust and understanding of the value of each partner allows them to jointly think through problems and pool expertise to work on solutions. 

Continuing Dialogue
Local groups and Merton Council began discussing responses to the recession as early as 2008. Last July, as soon as they received signals about the potential size of the cuts, the partners started working together on how to mitigate the impact on local communities. This conversation has continued ever since, with the latest initiative being a half day conference in September 2010 to identify problems and priorities being planned, and to be attended by sector representatives, the Local Authority, local Chamber of Commerce, NHS, Fire Service and the Police among others. 

Voluntary Sector Efficiency
From the early discussions came a realisation that everybody would need to be more efficient. In response, since the beginning of March 2009 the sector has begun to improve their understanding of collaboration and mergers, leading to a number of efficiency gains including more groups being open to sharing back office functions.  Recognising how valuable this has been, the Local Authority recently agreed to fund this work with a £20,000 grant.

Grant funding
With proper evaluation of the impact of grant funded projects, it has been found that grants provide good value for money. Therefore the grant budget has been maintained at previous funding levels for 2010/2011. However this doesn't mean that the same organisations will simply continue to be funded in the same way; there are still ongoing changes to this as priorities shift and organisations win or lose their funding.

The budget position from March 2011 is also being discussed, and partners intend to collaborate closely when setting priorities and deciding who is best placed to deliver services.  

Contract funding
For a long time partners have stopped talking about organisations or sectors when discussing contracts, instead focussing on what priority services need to be delivered. As this continues there is no talk of cutting funding ‘to the sector’. For example, the agreement to protect services for vulnerable people was a priority, and the agency delivering these will depend on who submits the best bid.

Summary of lessons learnt
  1. Early, open discussion based on mutual trust is vital to underpin this relationship
  2. Putting the needs of communities rather than organisations first, allows a shared starting point and common objectives
  3. Separating out grant and contract funding allows clearer thinking about each
  4. The voluntary sector has to be ready to adapt to tighter circumstances
  5. Local Public bodies need to recognise and value the sector’s expertise

Read our Merton Good Practice Case Study (PDF 173KB).
Visit our cuts resources page.

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