NORTH Wales Assembly Member Mark Isherwood has called on the Welsh Government to support smaller advice service providers who are missing out “to the larger ‘safe’ supplier time and again”.

Raising the matter with the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip in the Assembly Chamber on Tuesday, Mr Isherwood said smaller advice providers have expressed concern that “they've been actively ‘blocked’ when requesting to join collaborative funding bids locally.

This, he explained, is because larger providers don't want to split their already reduced funding pots with competitors” and have called for “quotas within bids to compel larger providers to collaborate”.

Mr Isherwood said: “You referred to your 24 April written statement to members during the Easter recess, when you announced the merging of three funding streams and the Single Advice Fund.

"You said that ‘providers are being encouraged to design and deliver services more collaboratively and on a regional basis’, (that) you're establishing new Regional Advice Networks ‘in partnership with key stakeholders’, with inaugural meetings anticipated this autumn, and you also referred to the Welsh Government now receiving ‘a share of the UK Financial Levy’ (for debt advice funding).

“How do you respond to concern expressed to me by some of the smaller providers that their experience is that they ‘have been actively blocked when requesting to join collaborative funding bids locally’ because larger providers don't want to split their already reduced funding pots with competitors?

"And that, ‘typically, a large provider can present a collaborative approach to a funder with partners less likely to pose a threat to their status as a lead provider in the area’ - and their calls to the Welsh Government, as you take this forward, for quotas within bids to compel larger providers to collaborate, not just on delivery, but on the sharing of funding resources, and for smaller ring-fenced pots of funding aimed solely at smaller delivery agents to encourage diversity, innovation, sustainability and specialisation?”

In her reply, the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip said her Written Statement on 24 April took forward the implementation plan from the Information Advice and Action Plan, which we published back in 2016, and that there were “19 actions in that in order to make sure that we can make best use of advice services funding”.

She added: “In terms of better collaboration, this new Single Advice Fund is going to enable that to happen.

"It will encourage better collaboration, improve the efficiency of service planning and delivery models, which is crucial to those smaller organisations that already do receive this funding.

"It's going to be available, and it is also, of course, ensuring that there will be longer term grant funding, as long as we get that firm commitment from the UK Government in terms of a future comprehensive spending review”.

Mr Isherwood added: “Although social welfare advice is often accessed at times of great stress such as debt, loss of employment or risk to a home, when urgent help is needed, smaller advice providers in Wales have told me that significant mainstream funding is virtually impossible to secure or retain, and that contracts are frequently awarded to the same ‘safe’ supplier time and again, despite them often not meeting value for money criteria, or giving any choice to the service users”.