Commission calls for redesign of local VCS support infrastructure

The local infrastructure that supports charities, community groups, and social enterprises needs to be redesigned and resourced to meet future challenges, according to a commission called to look at the issue.

The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action set up the Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure due to rising concerns local infrastructure membership could be left behind by the pace of social, political, economic and technological change.

The commission concluded “infrastructure will be needed in some form as long as people come together to form voluntary organisations and community groups”.

However, the infrastructure of the future is likely to be “a much leaner enabler, broker and catalyst, rather than necessarily a deliverer”.

The commission produced 19 recommendations - for local infrastructure, independent funders, central and local government and local commissioning bodies, and the business community.

Its overarching recommendation was that “local infrastructure needs to be redesigned and creatively resourced to meet the challenges of tomorrow”.

Barrow Cadbury Trust chief executive Sara Llewellin chaired the commission, and said infrastructure needs to undergo a redesign.

“It needs to act as a lever bringing in new resources to the sector, including social investment, crowd funding and pro bono support. It needs to be the enabler of voice and the advocate of community action. It needs to collaborate and share more cost effectively. It needs to promote and develop the ‘time economy’, co-production and good volunteering practices. Above all, it needs to help the sector with foresight and managing change, because the pace of change is not going to slow.”

Recommendations include a call for local infrastructure bodies to demonstrate their value, contribution and impact. Infrastructure bodies are urged to insist on a “seat at the planning tables” which affect communities and use their influence effectively.

Independent funders are urged to offer longer-term funding which is not focused “solely or primarily” on innovation. Collaboration between funders is recommended to maximise impact and to help infrastructure bodies make “more effective use of new forms of organising social action and the changing world of social finance”.

Among recommendations for central and local government and commissioning bodies, the commission urges an ongoing dialogue and collaboration with funders, infrastructure bodies, and others. It also recommends government and commissioners act strategically to fund core infrastructure functions at the local level.

The business community is urged to deploy its workforce’s skills for the benefit of local charities and community groups, and develop a volunteering policy for staff including incentives like paid time to volunteer and a say in the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy.

NAVCA chair Caroline Schwaller said the report shows how essential infrastructure support is to generating and supporting local community action.

“It also shows the need to change. Some NAVCA members are already at the leading edge, delivering innovative services. The challenge for NAVCA members is to be as good as the best. The challenge for NAVCA is to help them get there.”

Read the full report here.

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