Partnerships key to ‘place resilience’

30 May 2013

Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 17 May 2013.

Much has been said about the importance of voluntary sector partnerships in local government. In recent rounds of peer reviews, the council’s partnerships with local, regional and national charities – and with voluntary sector infrastructure bodies – has been a major line of enquiry.

But how can local councils and charities differentiate between effective practice and sound investment, and the austerity that often sees the local voluntary sector at the top of the list for disinvestment?

Across some of the improvement work I have been involved in there are some significant differences in approach.

Some areas are taking the “easy disinvestment” option – cuts can come easily when relatively small grants to local charities are banked in councils’ budget processes.

Others are taking a “medium term investment” approach – merging services with local charities’ provision to provide better coverage, less duplication and improved “single points of entry” for customers. Emerging practice on new partnerships for debt and money advice provision, in the context of welfare reform, is a strong case in point.

Some of the best charities across the UK are also energetic in re-shaping the social fabric of towns and cities across the country. Prominent bodies like CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies) have energised this debate with a strong focus on third sector partnerships for “place resilience” – a “third way” recognising all actors in the public, private voluntary and community spheres that make a place tick, not simply the hot headed pursuit of city-centric growth come what may.

Charities continue to play huge and powerful roles in direct provision and commissioned services across the country. This ranges from their less obtrusive front door into integrated healthcare under community budget pilots, to absorbing the impact of welfare reform on deprived communities, to the exciting difference national charities like NIACE can make to the lives of thousands of people through partnering with LEPs and Councils on skills and lifelong learning.

Talk of the “big society” may be increasingly unfashionable but councils appreciate the value that both small and large-scale strategic third sector partnerships can bring to place resilience, and to the lives of their local communities. It’s also an agenda I’m now looking forward to playing a bigger role in across the UK in the years ahead.