The civil society strategy: What it says about local infrastructure

This blog post is one of a series on the civil society strategy. For an overview of the strategy, please see our post on What you need to know.

My colleagues at NCVO have reviewed the government’s newly launched civil society strategy, and what it might mean for funding and financevolunteeringpublic servicesimpact and regulation. NAVCA has produced a detailed response focusing on the policy asks. In this post I’m focusing on some of the practical ways that local infrastructure organisations (LIO) might respond.

The closest the strategy comes to mentioning local infrastructure is a section called ‘local support system’. In summary:

  • To flourish, the ‘social sector’ (what we refer to as charities and social enterprises) depends on a support system, just as business depends on infrastructure such as transport and financial services
  • This support should take account of local context
  • Such support can ensure representation for disadvantaged local communities, provide a voice for the smallest organisations, and help to support local partnership working
  • Good infrastructure support is not universal, and is subject to financial disinvestment despite its value, therefore LIOs need to find new ways of working
  • Realising this ambition will require a collective effort – from the sector itself, and from government. The government will convene key stakeholders to explore how it can collectively develop strong local support systems for social sector organisations. This includes considering alternative models of support, drawing on knowledge, skills, and resources from across sectors.

Some of this chimes with my blog post Who Needs Local Infrastructure? (January 2018). There, I highlighted how some LIOs are developing innovative ways of working, and why the voluntary sector really can’t function at its best without local infrastructure.

Opportunities for LIOs

My recommendation is that LIOs familiarise themselves with the detail of the strategy with an eye open for opportunities. For example:

What the strategy says What LIOs can do
More collaborative commissioning and citizen commissioning
  • Lobby and support commissioners to develop collaborative commissioning practices – collaborative with service users and carers, not just the sector!
  • Promote ethical commissioning
  • Offer training and support for ‘citizen commissioners’.
Revive grant-making
  • Lobby and support commissioners across public sector to use grants, and not competitive tendering as default
  • Lobby for use of best practice and proportionate mechanisms for applications, assessment and monitoring.
Explore flexibility in contracts law to reserve some competition to social purpose vehicles, and explore the efficacy of this.
  • Lobby commissioners to use the full range of procurement methods, and not competitive tendering as default.
  • Share good examples (via NCVO and NAVCA)
Encourage use of innovation partnerships This procedure appeared in the most recent update of procurement law: NCVO believes that voluntary sector consortia can provide a legitimate and convenient innovation partner to public bodies, to support the development and delivery of new services without the need for open competition.
Local government has a role in bringing voluntary organisations together in the design and delivery of local services Position LIO as the front door (not gatekeeper) to the sector, enabling the authority to reach the ‘seldom heard’, convening collaboration activities, etc.
Strengthen the Social Value Act and support the voluntary sector to better articulate its social impact
  • Get skilled up on social value and develop a consultancy offer.
  • Support the sector to be able to demonstrate not just the social value of its work, but additional social value it creates in the community
  • Develop and sell training in social value (Knowsley CVS has done this.)
  • Lead by example: articulate its own social value, thereby creating a business case for funding or commissioning of core infrastructure functions.
Help communities take ownership of local assets
  • Identify local assets and develop ideas for voluntary sector hubs and/or business cases for transfer of assets. Also advise on ‘liability transfers’ not just asset ones
  • Consider raising loan finance to acquire buildings.
Make local enterprise partnership (LEP) boards more diverse Support local stakeholders to engage in LEPs.
Improve access to social investment for charities and social enterprises, and develop financial models which ‘deliver public services alongside debt investment’ Get skilled up on social investment, and consider becoming a social investor, as has GMCVO in Manchester.
Explore with national association of local councils and others the possibilities of local ‘charters’ between principal council, local councils, community groups.

The government will renew its commitment to the principles of the Compact.

Facilitate local discussions about re-adoption of a compact, or another suitable agreement to best practice in working together.
Increase funding of ‘place-based’ social action programmes Develop partnerships with organisations involved in delivering schemes such as community organisers and BIG Local, to avoid duplication.
Improve response to disasters (following Grenfell Tower)

What infrastructure colleagues are saying about the strategy


I’d like to thank Sally Young of Newcastle CVS and Garry Jones of Support Staffordshire for some input and comments to my first draft.

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Lev is an associate consultant to NCVO, and has specialist interest and knowledge in the role of the voluntary sector in public service transformation, partnerships and consortia, charity governance and leadership.

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