By Nigel Tapp
The UnitingCare Network Project’s Project Control Group (PCG) expects to make some significant announcements relating to a new network structure before the end of this month.
In June last year the Synod Standing Committee (SSC) established the PCG as part of a new strategic direction for the 25 UnitingCare agencies within the network.
The agencies currently operate in metropolitan, rural, regional and remote parts of Victoria and Tasmania, offering a broad range of services and advocacy to support thousands of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
They have a combined annual budget of about $185 million with services including children, youth and families, emergency relief, financial counselling, housing, alcohol and other drugs, and disability and aged care services.
The new strategic direction will build on existing strengths to better champion the capacity and abilities of the network as a whole. Bringing the agencies together as a single entity is also seen as offering significant strategic benefits in terms of accessing government funding and giving UnitingCare a stronger advocacy voice within the wider community.
PCG Chair Bob Hodges said the group had worked solidly since its establishment to prepare the ground for the coming changes.
“The PCG sees creating a truly collaborative environment as an important cornerstone of the new structure,” he said.
Uniting AgeWell, Wesley Mission Victoria and Uniting Housing remain outside the scope of the Project as they have different governance structures that already report directly to the synod and its Standing Committee. Nevertheless PCG members meet regularly with these agencies.
As part of the new direction, the SSC decided to establish a new single ‘Agency Board’ that will be responsible for overseeing delivery and support functions for Uniting Church community services throughout Victoria and Tasmania.
Overall governance of the UnitingCare network will move from the Commission for Mission to the new single Agency Board.
It will be a skills-based board and allow the network to work and speak as one unified voice for social advocacy and to share best practice and specialist skills across the organisation.
In August, the PCG began work on refining the details of the new strategic direction and the process for implementing the changes, which are anticipated to occur during this year.
The PCG has undertaken a regular program of consultation with UnitingCare Board chairs and chief executive officers.
It is continuing to work on an organisation and governance structure to best meet the Uniting Church’s mission, the well known strategic imperatives and the requirements of stakeholders.
It has also undertaken coordination work relating to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as participating agencies gear up to enter the NDIS market. The PCG is leading the response to an independent review of Early Childhood Services (ECS).
The PCG has established a Board Nomination and Remuneration sub-committee – consisting of Mr Hodges and three other members – to develop a process for appointing the new single Agency Board and CEO. It will also determine the remuneration of senior executives in the new structure.
Program Director Gerry Mak has held discussions with colleagues in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland to understand and learn from the process of reform undertaken by UnitingCare in those states.
Mr Hodges said it was not expected that any of the changes envisioned would negatively impact staff that care for clients, although reporting lines will change.
“In fact the aim is to make the work of client-facing staff easier by creating a structure which makes it simpler for them to share ideas and learn from the innovative work currently being undertaken throughout the organisation,” he said.
Mr Hodges said UnitingCare was fortunate to employ many committed and experienced professionals working across a wide range of service streams and this was a key strength of the organisation that should not be underestimated.
“There are many examples of cutting-edge service delivery being offered which is assisting to transform the lives of many of the people UnitingCare supports. Sharing knowledge more widely and more readily throughout UCVT will clearly lead to the development of more innovative solutions which can only benefit the client base as a whole.
“At present the sharing of information is hampered by the existing network which often sees individual services operating in a siloed atmosphere rather than having the opportunity to work together more often and more easily.”
Mr Hodges also paid tribute to the many volunteers who gave of their time weekly to support the work of their local UnitingCare agency. He said they would also see benefits flow from the changes.