Who needs local infrastructure?

I’m using this post to highlight an issue that I feel strongly about, not just because I worked for a local infrastructure organisation (LIO) for eight and a half years and understand the important functions that such organisations play in the public service economy, but because this sector is under threat.

In my four years at NCVO, I have come across many places where LIOs have lost funding for core infrastructure functions, or closed. However, despite this trend, I have come across some inspiring examples of LIOs innovating, developing new ways of working and thereby generating financial sustainability.

But first, back to my question – who needs local infrastructure?

Our members for a start…

In the current economic climate, small locally based organisations need support more than ever. By knowing the local area and local needs, LIOs are best placed to help frontline organisations to:

Why government bodies should value voluntary sector infrastructure

An LIO can save the public sector time and money by providing a single front door to the sector, not just as a ‘provider’, but as a partner in coproduction of services, engagement of local stakeholders, and raising the voice of communities (for example through quarterly forums or special interest groups). An LIO can build supply chains of suppliers for large contracts through consortia or lead partner/subcontractor arrangements, and bring funding into the sector through programmes such as Building Better Opportunities.

This should not come for free. Many public bodies invest in these functions through contracts, with defined performance indicators and targets. However, many LIOs complain to us that these functions were among the first to be cut when austerity hit, causing significant disruption.

Why NCVO needs local infrastructure

Our locally based partners are vital in helping us reach the smallest and farthest flung organisations across England, and give us invaluable feedback and intelligence about the sector. Only last week I received an enquiry from a small organisation in Cornwall that had been referred to me by NCVO member Volunteer Cornwall, and I ran a successful training event at MACC reaching mainly organisations that were not NCVO members.

What are local infrastructure organisations doing to weather the storm?

I have come across many examples of LIOs that are innovating and seizing opportunities. Here are just a few I’m currently working closely with:

What can NCVO do to support infrastructure?

From this month, we plan to:

  • send out a bespoke bulletin to all our members that are infrastructure organisations, with information and resources that they can pass on to their members or local sector. We will spread the net to also include national infrastructure organisations, rural community councils and community foundations
  • collaborate with NAVCA to ensure that we are not overloading our members with information and are ‘joined-up’ in our approach
  • generate case studies that will spark ideas and inspire our infrastructure colleagues
  • continue putting infrastructure colleagues in touch with each other, so you can share ideas and learn from each other.

 

Get infrastructure updates from NCVO and do leave a comment below if you have any thoughts.

 

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Lev Pedro Lev is a senior consultant with a special interest in public service transformation, partnerships and consortia. He also leads on NCVO’s relationships with infrastructure organisations.

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