Local authority options for improving advice
Early lessons from changes to legal advice provision and funding - the local authority experience
Tribal Group report for Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and Local Government Association (LGA), March 2010
Tribal’s research, commissioned by IDeA and LGA looks at the options available to local authorities that wish to make changes to local advice provision and the implications, risks and dilemmas of a move to commissioning. It was prompted by the Legal Services Commission’s CLAC and CLAN strategy – the joint procurement of Community Legal Advice Centres and Networks by the Commission and a handful of local authorities.
According to the report, the drivers for change include, from a service user perspective, fragmented services or gaps in supply. Funders may lack control over improvement, doubt value for money or find the costs of funding management too high.
Three options for change are evaluated:
A. Joint procurement of a CLAC or CLAN with Legal Services Commission
B. Work with existing providers – Cornwall, Bristol and Nottingham cited as examples
C. Issue a tender separately
The strengths and weaknesses of each option are assessed. The report is useful in its exploration of some of the pitfalls and myths about CLACs, CLANs and other options available.
The report states that competitive tendering is not the only option for local authorities and is not appropriate in all circumstances. It also reminds authorities that they can choose not to work with LSC on CLAC or CLAN procurement. Indeed, while the risks to the voluntary and community sector from CLACs and CLANs have been overstated, claims the report, the sustainability of them is not clear. It is too early to draw conclusions from CLAC/N procurement yet, states the report, but rigidity of the model and overly specified contracts restrict flexibility.
Early CLAC/N lessons are set out for councils:
- Early political support is essential (several CLAC/N proposals have been abandoned when politicians got cold feet)
- LSC objectives, process and contract may not sit well with the local approach
- Communication with advice providers has benefits, but they have often been excluded
- Collaboration between voluntary sector advice providers can often be difficult in the short time frames imposed
Local authorities are urged to assess the need for change first and evaluate options fully. If they do go for a CLAC or CLAN, sufficient resources must be allocated, the voluntary sector involved and supported to collaborate. An outcomes based contract should also be introduced – the authors rightly argue that over-specification of services can reduce innovation.
It is a little disappointing that it has taken so long for the report to be published and in that time things have moved on. The CLAC and CLAN project has halted pending the outcome of an evaluation by Legal Services Research Centre and learning from already established CLACs and CLANs, apart from on-going development in Barking & Dagenham and Manchester. AdviceUK’s work on a systems thinking approach to advice and intelligent commissioning as part of our BOLD project has contributed new evidence and thinking to the debate since research was done for the report in 2009.
It is also unfortunate that the report concludes that option B provides the weakest lever for change and offers least opportunity to establish value for money. Current work in Nottingham, where a systems thinking approach has been adopted by the Council, AdviceUK and advice agencies together, is showing that real, purpose driven collaboration with existing providers, based on gaining an absolute knowledge of current service issues and need for redesign is very effective. Of course, the research for the report predates much of the Nottingham experience. The report does note this work, however, and states that a systems thinking approach is more likely to produce recognition of the causes of demand for advice.
We hope to build on the growing recognition that our work is gaining in responding to the report and hopefully going on to work with IDeA, LGA and local authorities. Some doors were opened to this work at a Ministry of Justice/IDeA conference The Case for Advice - Shaping Future Local Provision, held on 2 March 2010 and which was the unofficial launch pad for the Tribal report. We will be talking to IDeA and LGA about how our work can be brought, with their help, to the attention of local authorities wanting to really improve local advice services.
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