Working with the voluntary sector: councils encourage collaboration

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 Charlotte no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.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 11th January 2012. It is the fourth in a five-part series on best practice between local authorities and the voluntary sector. The series is based on the recommendations and case studies of NCVO’s Best Practice Guide for Local Authorities and the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).

Joint projects

Partnerships and collaboration are prominent in the voluntary sector. In today’s competitive funding environment, it is unsurprising that so many charities are finding new ways to work together on joint projects. Charities can collaborate in many areas of their work, whether on frontline activities to fulfil their mission or supporting the back office functions which underpin this work.

To find efficiency savings, local authorities could consider encouraging some charities to work together on projects that target mutual beneficiaries. NCVO has seen this working well in some areas of England.

As working in collaboration is sometimes more complex than working alone, it is essential for organisations to discuss how they will work together, defining their roles, responsibilities and contractual or other legal obligations. Councils can assist in these negotiations.

Voluntary sector forums

Some local authorities have already created voluntary sector forums to provide a safe environment for organisations to air and share their views. Local authorities can also bring together like-minded voluntary groups through working with a local Compact group, which exist to streamline the relationship between government and charities.

For local authorities, the main benefit of encouraging collaboration will be efficiency and long term cost savings. Forums can also promote innovation in the way the two parties work.

Case studies

In Chester, the council has created a consortium of five local infrastructure organisations. It has pledged a guaranteed five years of funding for these organisations if they can collectively demonstrate that they are taking an effective, collaborative approach to their work. This project aims to encourage joint working and cut duplication of effort between local charities. Carol Berry, chief officer at Chester Voluntary Action has stated that the initiative also “encouraged both wider collaboration and the innovative delivery of support services”.

In Ealing, the council’s transition programme provides advice to local voluntary groups considering mergers. It is also looking to offer these services via online resources. Nigel Fogg, grant units manager for Ealing said he hoped the programme would help charities explore ways to adapt to a new financial environment.

Ealing CVS runs a series of workshops with other voluntary organisations in the borough on topics such as mergers, setting up social enterprises and new approaches to income generation.

In Gateshead, the council has created a children and young people’s services forum which boosts skills development and capacity building in the local charitable sector. The forum also helps to develop a market for commissioning children’s services.

What can be learnt?

The growing role of the voluntary sector in the provision of public services is likely to lead to more collaboration than ever before; charities will make joint bids for service delivery contracts. These organisations are likely to be aware of each others’ work and could have unofficial links and informal relationships upon which they can build.

However, more unusual or innovative collaborations could be encouraged by local authorities. With their own over-arching view of the voluntary sector in their area, councils are uniquely placed to help facilitate these partnerships.

Charlotte Stuffins

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