Friday, November 20, 2009


Three-Eleven. This chilling-sounding number refers to 31st March 2011. Just over a year hence. When Government spending for the next three years will be set. When the world as we know it today, begins to end – and cuts kick in.

For those too young to remember, there are broadly two approaches to cuts: Salami-Slicing and Downsizing. Salami-Slicing takes a bit off everyone, so that everything looks the same - just 10% smaller, slower, worse .

Downsizing, on the other hand takes three forms. One is just abolishing recently added bits of Government spending that nobody will miss. Another is just offering less of something than before and asking the parent, patient or householder to make up the difference. The third is to still offer it - but find someone to do it who is better, faster and cheaper than the state.

We will, of course, see both Salami-Slicing and Downsizing from the next Government. What will be interesting will be the mix. My guess is that Downsizing will be the main order of the day. Because you cannot, in reality Salami-Slice 30% from most public services any more than you can take a blade off a helicopter and expect it to stay in the air.

You need a whole new way to fly.

Enter the third sector. Many of us are very nervous about Downsizing because a lot of what we do is discretionary - added-value, icing-on-cake type stuff. Activity easy to slew off without bad publicity. So should we be living in fear? Well, some of us, yes.

But the opportunities presented by Downsizing may well exceed the risks. We do things differently. We We speak to the needs of our time. The sheer weight of former state services that might fall our way could dwarf current Government funding to the sector. A future Niagra next to today’s gentle stream.

David Cameron is right about one thing: it’s all over for the big state. Never again will the Government be viewed as the natural provider of all health, education and welfare, offender-rehabilitation services. Yes, Government will fund, yes it will commission and keep us all accountable. But its clock is ticking down. Ours, by contrast, is coming up to the hour.

And there are other trends too which push our way. The Iain Duncan-Smith `Broken Society’ agenda plays straight to our incredible community sector. New money will flow here, if nowhere else. New bidding consortia such as 3SC, will help innovative third sector players to find those new ways to fly. And new social enterprises will shoot off from the NHS and local government as these sclerotic empires are, at last, broken up.

So Three Eleven need not chill your blood. Indeed it may even warm your heart!


Rob Fountain said...

Interesting post and I like the positive vibe you're able to arrive at. I do hope that there is some growth in third sector provision as a consequence of the financial squeeze. I'm not totally convinced - we both know local authorities for example are not always able to be as creative in their planning as we might hope - but fingers crossed. My wider concern is that the potential growth for the third sector is in direct delivery of services. What, though, of the campaigning, networking, awareness raising, research, good practice dissemination, and general support to those in a range of situations / needs? Trust funding for these is hit and it is investment in these from the public purse that seems almost certain to go. In some cases that is right - there are plenty of sausages in our sector - but in others some valuable work that is harder to evidence the direct impact of may be the losers in the next spending round.

Rob Harris said...

I agree with you in many ways Rob, downsizing, top slicing, salami slicing; doesnt matter what Quango speak we label it with the fact is its unlikely that the current public sector provider and commissioners will look any further than they are told to look when it comes to making efficiencies. Creativity and entrepeneurial savvy is something i have come across in public sector commissioners only twice or three times (and nowadays they wouldnt be able to operate the way they did then; a 'procurement specialist' would inform them of the error of their creative ways and have them work with organisations in the 3rd sector that are like the NHS or a local authority - there is a broader stream to this, probably for another day!). I agree with you Craig that the economic situation has provided a double edge to it; whether the 3rd sector will be trusted to take advantage of that, and more importantly on what financial and governance led terms, is something i will watch and participate in with an equal measure of caution. "All that glistens....."