Dorset Advocacy (DA) was established in 1993. Its aim was to create long-term one-to-one partnerships between people with learning disabilities and volunteers, who would get to know their ‘partner’ and speak up for them to make sure they got a fair deal in life. By the time of its 25th anniversary in 2018, it had become a versatile advocacy service using both volunteers and employees to provide a wide range of advocacy, both under contract and voluntarily. It had a turnover of about £1m and helped about 4,000 people annually.
By 2018, DA was taking on more and more cases. It sought guidance from Cranfield on improving operations, caseload management, and analysis of the flow of referrals and allocations. It was becoming concerned about the impact that an unrealistically high workload could have on its quality of service, reputation, finances and staff resilience. DA Chief Executive Mike Pochin gave one service as an example. ‘The numbers of people using one of our services grew, but not dramatically, between 2007 and 2014’, he said.’ However, changes in case law from 2015 onwards increased referrals from about 100 per annum to over 1,000. The Commissioners of our services were sympathetic to us but could not increase payments to us in line with the increase in workload.’
HOW WE HELPED
DA was matched with Cranfield Volunteer Consultant Graham Colls, who had just retired from full-time employment after 39 years in the social housing sector, 25 of them as a housing association chief executive. Discussions between Mike and Graham quickly established that the work should go beyond the initial problem to encompass factors such as DA’s overall strategy, its view of risk and subsidy, and its governance. These all affected how much work DA was willing to take on. Managing the work once it was in DA was important but arguably even more important was DA’s view on the volume and type of work that it was willing to take on in the first place.
Mike was of the opinion that the review should go where the evidence led, and so Graham set to work, interviewing volunteers and employees and attending DA Board, Committee and other meetings. The result was a wide-ranging 13,000-word report with 33 recommendations, delivered to DA by Graham 3 months after the initial meeting. Graham said ’It was good of DA to give me free rein and they were as good as their word in the fact-finding period of my work. They were very co-operative. They really wanted me to get to the bottom of things.’ DA’s board considered the report in the following month and accepted all 33 recommendations. Mike agreed.’ The report was clear, comprehensive and compelling.’
Since accepting the report and its recommendations, the Board has monitored their implementation, which Mike has set about with a will. He is satisfied that DA’s strategy, finances, approach to risk, and operations are all on a firmer footing. ’The report has also radically changed our approach to budgeting,’ he says,’ the timing of which was very good for us as the report coincided with big changes in tendering in our sector. It is making us more efficient, which ought to help us with future tenders.’
As a result of free management consultancy from Cranfield Trust, DA is now better prepared to face the future, and does so with greater confidence.
You can find out more about Dorset Advocacy on their website: www.dorsetadvocacy.co.uk
We would like to thank our volunteer Graham Colls for helping us write this case study.