Forward Carers CIC

Forward Carers CIC

Forward Carers CIC is a large consortium-based social enterprise operating in Birmingham and the West Midlands providing support for unpaid Carers young and old enabling them to cope with the demands of caring responsibilities. FCCIC is truly innovative and always looking for ways to improve support available to unpaid Carers either online, in groups or face to face. Technology supports great data capture plus the operation of the consortium, contracts and facilitates good communication. It’s a brilliant example of how small VCSE’s can access and be part of the delivery of big contracts without losing connections with the communities they support.   

What do you do if you are a small VCSE organisation delivering very specific local authority contracts and grant related services and the commissioner decides to bring all the activity together under one contract ? the barriers the small organisation faced concerned delivery geography [a city wide contract rather than place based], turnover and eligibility to bid for large contracts, service specification extended and differed from previous contract,  concerns about TUPE, capacity and access to a skilled workforce, the demands of monitoring and managing cash flow.  

The social enterprise began to form in 2014 when it quickly became obvious that any organisation supporting unpaid Carers in Birmingham was going to need to work in partnership and quickly make links with agencies that would be able to ensure that all aspects of the contract specification could be met. For many this was a new experience and for others a concern where they had been used as ‘bid candy’ by large private and third sector organisations seeking to move into Birmingham with no intension of sharing contract opportunities. There was also a lingering distrust following years of competitive grant making from the Local Authority which had resulted in organisations not wanting to work in partnership. Supporting partners to trust one another and feel good about working in a consortium underpinned the early stages of the new collaboration.   

Some key building blocks quickly became evident:

Organisations needed time to address issues of trust in partners and the new consortium [at least 3 or 4 meetings].  

That some organisations were there because they sensed an opportunity but would ultimately drop out when they realised the opportunity led them away from their core mission. 

The consortium and partnership working needed to be underpinned with non-disclosure agreements, partnership agreements and rules of engagement should anything go wrong and the contract be in danger of non-delivery.

Leadership and clarity around process. Leadership initially came from a large charity prepared to support the consortium with bid writing and to be the ‘host’ for the contract until a separate organisation could be set up [should they win].

Clear subcontracts and associated consortium membership criteria post award of contract and transparency regarding sub-contact values.

Forward Carers CIC was registered in 2015, it had won the Birmingham City Council contract to provide services to unpaid Carers. It provided subcontracts to over 30 small and medium sized VCSE organisations enabling them to provide support within their communities, sustain local jobs and  the local economy.

Where are they now?

FC CIC now has a small central team that manages the delivery of all contracts [there are now a number of contracts in different locations being delivered!] on behalf of consortium members alongside impact and all finances.  

They recently won the retendered subsequent five year contract to provide continued support to unpaid Carers in Birmingham and this will commence in April 2023 through the Birmingham Carers Hub.

Other services include Statutory Carers Assessments, management of Wellbeing payments, Carers Emergency Response Service and support for employers through a Carer Friendly Workplace scheme.  

This social enterprise has a turnover of £3.2 million and is very successful.  

What has been the impact of working as a consortium?

Significant service improvement for the clients because they have been able to measure what’s working and what makes a difference to the clients. Do more of what make’s a difference and et about improving what might not be working.    

Shares out resources enabling small organisations to benefit from large contracts and subsequently benefit from the success of the contract leading to other business opportunities.

Central capacity building and training, contract management systems and date capture and project management enabling smaller organisations to concentrate on delivery.  Also a central bidding function for new contracts.

Where organisations working with underrepresented communities can change how contracts are delivered by proving that you can have greater impact using alternative approaches.  

Fostering of innovation and new service delivery development. Some of the large contract surplus has enabled the consortium to invest in alternative ways to support unpaid carers where existing contracts don’t cover needs.   

In conclusion, in the broader social enterprise and VCSE sector, Forward Carers CIC is little known especially outside Birmingham.  And outside of health and social care in Birmingham! It’s a great exemplar of how to take an opportunity, work collaboratively and create a new delivery vehicle which creates social value in the long term.  

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