Commissioned by the Association of Mental Health Providers, the Centre for Mental Health report Arm in arm, warns that voluntary and community organisations face numerous financial barriers including reductions in local government funding, short-term and ‘more for less’ contracts, unpredictable and delayed decision-making, and the unintended consequences of national policies. Smaller organisations are particularly at risk following the introduction of Integrated Care Systems, limiting their ability to compete for funding on much larger geographical footprints than before.
Arm in arm is based on interviews with both commissioners and providers of voluntary sector mental health support. It shows that commissioners in both local government and the NHS were keenly aware of the extra value that voluntary and community organisations can bring. Some commissioners had taken action specifically to support voluntary and community organisations to get funding and retain their distinctive approaches. But they were frustrated that competition for contracts often stopped organisations from working well together and could lead to come going out of business altogether.
The report finds that the deepest disagreements between commissioners and voluntary sector organisation often centred on monitoring and accountability. Commissioners need to know that public money was being well spent but most voluntary sector organisations don’t have the data collection capabilities of NHS trusts or larger private sector companies. Some had sought to resolve this through evaluation and qualitative evidence of impact rather than onerous outcome monitoring measures.