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Catch22 responds to House of Lords Select Committee call for evidence on “Public Services: Lessons from coronavirus”

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, taken from across the River Thames. Overlaid is text that reads: "Consultation Response".

In June 2020, the House of Lords Select Committee called for written evidence to help them examine what the experience of coronavirus can tell us about the future role, priorities and shape of public services. Catch22 responded.

Our staff have faced huge challenges of working under lockdown conditions – whether that be in a prison setting without the technology needed in the absence of face to face support, in schools working hard to stay open for the most vulnerable families, or when delivering mental health and wellbeing support services for young people who don’t have access to a phone or computer. But we have adapted and looked to creative solutions despite the circumstances. It’s been vulnerable groups who, as in any national crisis, have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

  • In our justice services, our victim services teams are adapting by providing support remotely, in prisons our staff are compiling in-cell packs and are working on a rota basis and ensuring social distancing rules are followed.
  • In our education settings, our alternative provision schools have remained open for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. These pupils have often been receiving one to one tuition which has resulted in their attainment markedly improve. We’ve been delivering online lesson and sending home work-packs. But perhaps most importantly, all pupils receive daily welfare calls. We’re seeing a strengthening of relationships across the board; between teacher and parent, the Department for Education and schools and local authorities. 84% of parents we surveyed feel them and their children are being well supported by their school.
  • In our colleges, we have converted entirely to digital delivery, as have our apprenticeship programmes. Apprentices are benefiting from more face time with tutors. We’re also tailoring modules to fit the current climate; including covering topics such as handling difficult customers and managing expectations. Our employability services have been working hard to make sure those in need of a job are linked up to relevant employers. The changes in the labour market are even more pronounced, and our employability and training services will adapt to that. And issues such as digital exclusion and youth unemployment have become starker.
  • Our young people and families services, including those for exploited and missing children, continue to support children through online chats, video calls and phone calls to make sure they have people to talk to when they need it most. And we’re finding new ways to reach out to vulnerable groups; whether that’s through posters in supermarkets or through TikTok videos.

Despite being a large organisation, we pride ourselves on delivering services which are appropriate for the specific communities we service. At times we’re restricted in our ability to do so as effectively as we’d like due to over-bureaucratic contracts and rigid KPIs. We pride ourselves on ‘doing things differently’, but the scope for innovation is often limited.

COVID-19 has shown from a service delivery perspective that what many deemed to be impossible, is in fact possible. There are countless examples of where organisations were told something could not happen before, but since the pandemic struck, these very things have happened and at pace; be it relaxation of contractual terms or GPs working remotely. Commissioners and funders alike also have a renewed appetite for change, allowing those delivering public services, such as Catch22, to get on with it and do what they do best. And it’s working. Our commissioners have been brilliant in giving us the flexibility to deliver for the people who need our services.

In a post-COVID19 world, this should continue. The innovation that we’ve seen should be a feature of future public service delivery. And those in power must recognise social value above a purely market-led approach; because it’s not just in times crisis that people need effective public services that are focused on their specific needs.

Core recommendations

The current crisis has demonstrated the ability of third sector organisations and social enterprises to be highly effective in public service delivery. So much so that there is now a clear opportunity to reimagine how public services are delivered. We would argue for a commissioner-provider relationship which:

  • puts civil society at the heart, with the State as an enabler rather than the sole provider.
  • rebalances contractual relationships. There must be a shift in focus from targets that promote increased activity and output, to ones that increase impact. Current models tend to serve profit over purpose – whereas we really should be putting the needs of people first and foremost. That means an approach to commissioning based on reciprocity, mutuality and trust; contracts that bring organisations together to realise a common purpose.
  • defines social value, which is in effect the ‘added’ value’ that VCSE bring to service delivery. This is centered around purpose, care and community.
  • is based on trust. With the current guidance from government for local authorities on managing their contracts with VCSEs, we’ve seen an adaptability and a recognition of what is fair – such as the shifting of payment of schedules. There is consideration of what the actual cost of delivering a service, with social value firmly at the heart, and trust that the delivery partner will do what’s best to get the desired outcome.
  • is centred on meaningful collaboration. We must collaborate effectively as sectors; private, voluntary and public – this is a time to pull together to achieve fundamental change. This is not about self-protection and narrow interests.