The 3SC Story: A Decade of Social Impact
2019 sees 3SC celebrate ten years of empowering charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises to deliver a larger share of public services and create greater, positive social impact. Here, three key players in 3SC’s resounding success reflect on 3SC’s rapid journey from a small organisation with a big vision into an influential powerhouse for social good that has delivered public services across the UK and ploughed almost £80 million into the third sector…
3SC was established on 23rd July 2009 with a clear vision to unite the third sector and enable them to punch above their weight when it came to the delivery of public services. With an understanding and belief that the needs of people using public services were best met by local, passionate, mission driven community-centric organisations, 3SC sought to overcome the barriers they often face in being awarded public services contracts by developing consortia and then winning and managing them on their behalf.
Not only would this allow smaller third sector organisations who work at the coalface to have the opportunity to deliver on public service contracts that would otherwise be blocked to them, 3SC’s ongoing management ensured that they could remain the mission-driven enterprises that make them so well-placed to deliver true social impact and stay focused on what they did best: helping people.
Foundations for the Future
Within the first month of operation back in July 2009, 3SC had won their first contract. The Department for Work and Pensions tasked 3SC with providing an initial 3,000 work placements for long-term unemployed young people as part of the government-backed Future Jobs Fund. As one of the few organisations to be awarded a national contract to deliver these placements throughout England, the small team with just one full time employee needed to quickly mobilise to be able to deliver on the contract through their supply chain of over 150 carefully cultivated third sector delivery organisations.
But the internal team also needed to expand. With an urgency to employ new regional managers for the four quadrants of England, 3SC approached Fred Bentley for advice on the recruitment of these new key roles, drawing on his wealth of experience in the procurement and management of employment and skills contracts. On learning more about the new set-up and its ethos, Fred was inspired to begin a new challenge and has remained with 3SC ever since as their Head of Relationship Management.
“When I think back over the last ten years, from our beginnings as a team of just two people to the influence and impact we have today, it strikes me what an amazing journey we’ve had.” Fred says.
“What inspired me to join 3SC in those early days was the whole ethos and vision.
I joined as 3SC’s second employee to deliver on what was such a massive contract, especially for a newly formed and very small business. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was one I truly believed in.
It made sense to me that the best people to deliver these contracts were organisations working at the coalface who were enthusiastic and passionate about working with disadvantaged young people.
They were already in the field and carrying out this work with dedicated and mission-focused people as their driving-force. I knew that 3SC’s vision to harness this enthusiasm into a performance-framework would deliver more meaningful and more varied placements for young people. And that’s exactly what we proved very early on with The Future Jobs Fund. It was the beginning of a very fast ride.”
Within nine months, 3SC had delivered on their targeted 3,000 placements and pumped £13 million into the delivery partners they worked with, growing to over 6,000 placements and nearly £34 million in contract value by the end of its final phase in 2011. 3SC had grown to become one of the UK’s top national providers as part of the scheme. But the outcomes of their management of the Future Jobs Fund contract went further than the stipulations of the contract.
“The requirement of the contract was to deliver six-month work placements that would improve the skills and employability prospects of the young people. But we went beyond that. In fact, over a third of the young people we got into those work placements were retained in those jobs in employment. It was important evidence that enabling small community-based organisations to deliver public services was the key to producing a greater, longer-lasting social impact.”
A Stronghold in Wales
The Future Jobs Fund ended in 2011 following the coming to power of the coalition government and was replaced with the DWP’s Work Programme, for which 3SC remained a subcontractor until 2019, supporting over 6500 people into training, placements and work, with over 2500 of those sustaining employment.
The organisation also took on several smaller, local bespoke contracts in areas outside of employment, delivering impressive results and lasting social impact in the spheres of family support and disabilities nationwide. But for Fred, the next phase of rapid growth came in 2013.
“We realised that we could build on the successes we’d had in England by bidding for the Jobs Growth Wales contract.” Fred says, ” We applied to deliver the contract in all six areas of the country that were running it. We had expected to win just one, perhaps two, of these. But we won five, which was totally unexpected. For me, this was really the next quantum leap in 3SC’s success.”
3SC’s response to this momentous win was to open a new office in Wales to take on the management of Job Growth Wales and expand the organisation’s influence in the country.
Kathryn Jellings joined the same year to head up the Welsh operations and deliver the growing number of contracts awarded by the Welsh government, including Jobs Growth Wales and Bridgend Futures. Today, Kathryn is 3SC’s Head of Employment Programmes for the UK.
“What makes Wales an interesting place is that it’s a political micro-climate for the rest of the UK”, Kathryn says. “If you could shrink down the geography for the whole UK, there are places in Wales that mirror the social geography across the border. That makes it a fantastic testing ground for new ideas.
And I think that’s why we had such success with winning and managing the contracts for Jobs Growth Wales, and the subsequent successes we’ve had here with other contracts. There is a real appetite here for new approaches and different ways of working.”
From August 2013 to March 2015, 3SC promoted the programme to hundreds of employers and successfully placed over 650 young people into lasting employment including those that had additional needs and required a greater level of support.
“Local agencies were responsible for the sourcing of the young people who needed the support,” Kathryn explains, “and we actually ended up sourcing more employers who were interested in working with them than there were young people who had been sourced to fill the placements, essentially overperforming on our contract.
Through our relationship building with employers, there was an incredible attitude from them, wanting to take on more and more young people through the scheme, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was a very exciting time, with a great feeling about the good we were doing.”
Elsewhere in Wales and under Kathryn’s management, there was great success outside of the employment sphere. In 2012 3SC were awarded the first social impact bond in Wales, Capitalise, working with young people who were at risk of exclusion from schools – a programme Kathryn is particularly proud of. The contract ran until 2015 and remains the largest social impact bond that 3SC have worked on.
“I don’t think we’ve seen quite that level of success before or since. We worked with 700 young people aged 14-16 who were in real danger of dropping out of the education system. Still to this day for a social impact bond this was groundbreaking. Each and every young person we worked with improved their grades, their attitudes and their approach to education.
Ultimately, we were reducing the risk of them dropping out and claiming benefits, creating added social value. It wasn’t only a win for the lives of the young people we worked with, but also in terms of efficiency and costs to the tax-payer. I haven’t seen any other social impact bonds that have made such an impact.”
Transforming Through Austerity
By 2015, the contracts for Jobs Growth Wales and Capitalise, amongst others, had ended. For Kathryn, the ending of contracts is a challenging and difficult part of the work 3SC do.
“It’s the nature of contracts themselves, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult”, Kathryn explains. “We build strong supply chains, we work with great organisations and build relationships with the fantastic, dedicated people behind them. It’s always sad when a contract ends and we need to say goodbye.
There are peaks and troughs for the whole contracting environment, so we always need to be on the lookout for what’s next.”
But for Kathryn, the key challenges came to a head in 2015 when 3SC really began to feel government austerity measures bite.
” Austerity created huge spending cuts, where price became the king over added, long-term social outcomes. We were really noticing a government focus on getting the cheapest solutions and not necessarily the most effective, in terms of social impact.
We had come so far over the last five years, but austerity meant that the government was not seeing the value in third sector supply chain and consortium environments, despite the 2012 Social Impact Act which was meant to ensure this was a key consideration in the commissioning of public services.”
However, despite the difficulties of austerity, Kathryn calls 2015 a turning point in the organisation’s fortunes as 3SC branched out into a new area – offender rehabilitation and probation services. Early in 2015 Joanne Cholerton joined 3SC as a consultant interim Programme Director.
“For the previous seven years, before I joined 3SC, I had been running my own company that had been focused on implementing transformational change and improving performance in public services, specifically crime reduction and rehabilitation services. It’s how I first became involved with 3SC.” Joanne says.
Joanne was tasked with mobilising 3SC’s new Transforming Rehabilitation contract, including managing a team to contract manage third sector rehabilitation and probation services in 5 out of the 21 areas. It remains 3SC’s largest contract and today, Joanne has stepped into the role of Chief Executive full time.
“It was not something that I expected to do, as a consultant at the time. But I felt like 3SC were well placed to do more for the sector as a whole – indeed to become a champion for the benefit of using third sector organisations. With public service commissioning so focused on price over outcomes, size over scale and lack of diversity in supply chains at the time, I was inspired to not only continue to deliver people-centric public service contracts through our third sector consortia but also for 3SC to act as a driving force for change in government procurement processes.”
Advocates for the Third Sector
3SC’s reputation had led them to be involved with many government consultations and contracting activities with both central and local government throughout their history. However, it was in 2018 that the organisation moved into explicit government lobbying, holding events at the House of Commons and Welsh Assembly to launch their paper The Crisis in Public Sector Commissioning and How to Cure It.
It aimed to raise awareness at government level of problems for third sector organisations in bidding to deliver public services and the lack of efficiency that comes from ignoring long-term social impact in their commissioning frameworks and how this can be overcome.
“We’d like to be the voice for small and micro third sector organisations who deliver fantastic public services yet because of their size and the way public services are commissioned, are often excluded from procurement exercises. And we’ll be continuing acting as a champion for small social organisations in any government procurement activity until it becomes a level playing field.”
“We also firmly believe that the inclusion and robust assessment of social impact should be a mandatory requirement for each stage of the commissioning cycle from start to finish. And we’re determined to play our part in helping to achieve this.”
3SC would not achieve anything without the delivery organisations they work with who provide great services often in difficult conditions. 2019 saw the launch of 3SC’s membership service to support micro, small and medium-sized third sector organisations to improve and be more successful at winning and delivering public sector contracts.
With ongoing support, membership networking and events, toolkits and policy templates, it aims to help them overcome some of the procurement barriers they face and help them to win bids and grow both as part of a 3SC consortium and as an independent organisation.
“I’m particularly proud of our new membership scheme and excited about the opportunities it presents. We hope that it will grow into a community of thousands of social organisations who we can help empower to improve their performance, their attractiveness to commissioners and in turn deliver more public services and social impact.
But moreover, we’re creating a collective of like-minded organisations who can come together and lobby for institutional change. It makes our voice stronger. And as a social enterprise, it’s activities like this that support the sector as a whole that are incredibly important.”
As 3SC entered their tenth year, there was cause for celebration as their long-standing championing of the sector saw them recognised as one of the NatWest Top 100 Social Enterprises in the UK.
“This has certainly been one of my personal highlights during my time at 3SC.” Joanne says. “To be on this list that celebrates the growth, resilience and impact of social ventures in the UK alongside other such great and worthy social businesses is fantastic. At the ceremony itself, I was reminded of the truly innovative and varied work our sector does on a daily basis and how vital it is in transforming the lives of so many people. For us to be recognised made me incredibly proud.”
But, more importantly, Joanne cites the staff at 3SC as what makes her most proud.
“To be leading an organisation with such amazing, dedicated and passionate people is incredibly humbling. It’s the team we have here that enable us to be successful in what we do and transform the lives of so many people. They support each other and the delivery organisations we work with without ever losing sight of why we do what we do. Each and every one of them makes me feel proud to come into work every day.”
The 3SC story clearly demonstrates that the organisation has a lot to celebrate at their milestone anniversary – with thousands of people and social organisations benefitting from their business model. And as the organisation looks to the next ten years, they’re determined to continue in their mission for the third sector to deliver an ever-increasing amount of public services and deliver true social impact to those whose lives are transformed by their support.
Editorial by Nick Ford