I spent yesterday at an event which was focused on the nighttime economy in Brighton & Hove and how the infrastructure in the City which is provided by the statutory agencies is supported and extended by volunteers and services provided by charities. There is no point pretending that such provision comes free. It requires funding for the work, even in settings where there are no full time workers, and coordinating volunteers costs money as does paying for their expenses. The overall cost of the schemes that were looked at is low if compared to the cost of statutory services, and in the case of the three services examined, the cost-benefit ratio is very much weighted in favour of these services. Their impact on saving lives and keeping people safe is High. There is also no way that the statutory services could achieve the same outcomes as some of these services for a variety of reasons which include the impact of an official uniform which has a clear authoritative background compared to the dress code of a more informal service on the people being engaged with. However there is a real challenge in finding the funds to ensure that these ‘cindarella’ schemes can be properly resourced. When the NHS, Police and Councils are all under threat and are being forced to save funds, the ability of a charity to remove the need for an Ambulance call out, or to ensure that the Police Officers available are not obliged to spend time with someone who just needs a bit of care and attention should on the face of it make the funding easy to find. Equally the impact on the businesses such as nightclubs and bars of such support services should mean that funding is a no brainer. Sadly there does not appear to be any simple way of transferring funds from one part of a budget to another service or agency. I know that this example is one that could be repeated in a number of ways if we looked at diversionary behaviour to reduce reoffending or if we looked at how youth services actually save society money. In all cases the obvious savings are not achievable because of the way in which organisations are forced to account for their funding. One classic example is that Job Centres have no budget for renting space outside of their existing offices. So in settings where people struggle to get into a town centres to attend meetings due to poor public transport systems, whereas common sense would say that we should move the Job Centre into communities, their budgets won’t allow this. Yet the positive impact on assisting people and savings on not having to chase up the people who missed appointments would more than cover its own costs. Let alone the benefit to the claimants who also get severely penalised by such problems. All of this seems like small details in the overall scheme of running Police, Councils, DWP and Prisons yet it has a huge impact on the lives of ordinary people.
We need elected Politicians to challenge the rules that prevent such flexibility and also those who do have discretionary funding available to use it in an effective manner. After all when the political will is found to invite Presidents or hold Public events for the death of Politicians, let alone going to war, budgets are never a barrier!