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Unlocking partnerships between councils and charities for the good of local communities

By Sarah Sheen, technical manager at CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Charities and councils have long worked together to provide local communities with the services they need to flourish. When communities were facing the worst of the pandemic, local organisations were able to mobilise to achieve better outcomes for the people who needed the most help. As the recovery process continues, it will be of paramount importance for the charity sector and local authorities to realise the true potential of working together to deliver public services such as health, social care and education.

Developing genuine partnerships between local authorities and the charitable and voluntary sector is complex because of the different funding arrangements and operating environments at play, as well as limited resources. But understanding the issues that local authorities are confronted with might help charity leaders build on these partnerships.

Local authorities have already faced an uphill battle to fund public services after years of austerity. The pandemic has only exacerbated existing problems, as well as created new ones to address. One of the primary issues facing the public sector is how to fund crucial services like social care that meets the needs of an ageing population that is living longer in poor health. Tackling the housing crisis has proven to be another challenge compounded by the pandemic. And, looking to the future, issues related to sustainability and how to address the climate crisis will become prominent for councils.

These are only a few of the monumental challenges facing public sector organisations but are all joint issues that charities and local authorities can face together for the good of their communities.

We recently released a report (Unlocking potential: Realising the role of local charities in public service delivery) that looked at the relationship between charities and local authorities and outlined the benefits of working together to support service delivery. There are three areas that we think councils should focus on if they are to get the most from their relationships with local charities. These are collaboration on service design, capacity building and commissioning.

Collaborating to design public services will be incredibly important because it will enable commissioners to work together with both suppliers and service users to tailor services to community needs. Capacity building and changes to the commissioning process would also help de-mystify the process surrounding complex procurement methods.

In order to facilitate this collaboration, it’s critical to be able to have an active dialogue with local authorities focusing on the above areas. This dialogue, as well as the other benefits outlined in the report, will support the case for making changes to tailor service design for individual circumstances in each community. Understanding the options available for partnering with local authorities will enable charities to consider how these might work most effectively for their beneficiaries and local authority service recipients.

COVID-19 has created the need for councils to come up with creative solutions to take on complex challenges that could have a lasting impact on the lives of the most vulnerable people in our communities for decades. Pursuing all the options above will enable both charities and local authorities to deliver the best outcomes for those who need it. While some progress has already been made by councils to build relationships with charities in their local areas, this challenging moment in history presents an excellent opportunity to join forces and make a lasting impact on service delivery for the good of communities now and into the future.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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