Councils realise the potential of the voluntary sector

Charlotte Stuffins blogs about policy. Charlotte no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.
This blog was originally published on the Guardian Local Government Network on 29th November 2011. It is the third in a five-part series on best practice between local authorities and the voluntary sector. The series is based on the recommedations and case studies of NCVO’s Best Practice Guide for Local Authorities and the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).

Organisations are adapting to survive

Many charities are facing new challenges in the uncertain economic climate. Some find that they must adapt to survive, deciding to expand their role by providing public services. Others streamlining the way they work to ensure greater efficiency.

Organisational development if this type requires certain skills and knowledge, which can sometimes be beyond those found in small, frontline voluntary organisations. This is where local authorities can help to address knowledge gaps, sharing their expertise with the voluntary sector.

Public service delivery

Councils will have extensive knowledge on effective ways to deliver public services, which could be shared with voluntary organisations taking on the job of public service provision. More generally, advances in technology can provide new opportunities for many charities – yet the confidence and skills to effectively operate new systems or social media can be lacking in some organisations.

NCVO knows of a number of councils which are sharing their extensive skills and knowledge with local charities to improve their capacity. Some are offering support in general capacity building, while others are providing specific training in public service delivery, commissioning and IT.

East Lindsey district council and Lincolnshire county council have together found the funding for a three-person team to provide skills and expertise to East Lindsey’s voluntary groups. Gateshead council has also created a capacity building team, comprised of council officers and staff from the local authority. The team supports a range of organisations to help charities grow and improve, particularly around services and contract bidding. It also helps organisations looking to broaden their income streams or become more financially sustainable.


Gateshead has launched a commissioning improvement programme, which aims to improve commissioning in children and young people’s services. It focuses on improving partnerships and building skills of the organisations involved, through capacity building programmes and workshops open to charities working with children and young people. The programme led to the creation of a children and young people’s services forum. Sessions were held over the summer on issues such as commissioning, early intervention models, evidence based outcomes and payment by results.

In Ealing, the council has created a transition programme which aims to help local VCOs manage funding cuts and develop new forms of income generation. It also provides help and advice to local voluntary organisations interested in bidding for funding, setting up new social enterprises or developing new business models.

Voluntary and community sector forums

A voluntary and community sector forum has been created by South Somerset district council. One of its objectives is to improve access to information and resources for the local voluntary sector. The forum meets three times a year and provides information on funding, training opportunities, employment law, charity and company law and strategy. Within these meetings, practical workshops have focused on skills that help to build the resilience of voluntary organisations including bid-writing, commissioning and procurement.

The unlocked potential of the voluntary and community sector is vast and by working in partnership with charities, especially through the sharing of knowledge and skills, local authorities will help deliver greater efficiencies through our public services. Enhancing the skillset of voluntary organisations will also enable the sector to become more resilient and sustainable. Most importantly, the benefits of this new capacity will be felt across the community.

Charlotte Stuffins

NCVO Policy Team’s blog

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