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A Call For More Local Authority Engagement by Three Leading Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Organisations

A Call For More Local Authority Engagement by Three Leading Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Organisations

Three leading voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations, The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), and Compact Voice, a body which promotes effective partnerships between the voluntary sector and government, have called on local authorities to ensure they engage with the voluntary sector at all stages of the commissioning process.

In a joint letter sent out to all the council leaders in England before last week’s local election, the three organisations urged local authorities to treat the voluntary sector fairly when setting their budgets.

The letter highlights the value of voluntary services, and reminds councils of their duties under the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Best Value statutory guidance and under the National Compact, both of which set out standards for how councils should work with charities when making budget decisions.

“At a time when local councils face the biggest cuts in living memory, it is still important to abide by these legal precepts but we must also move beyond this simple approach,” it states.

Helping each other

The three organisations note that the VCS is already helping local authorities by:

  • Providing essential services for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents.
  • Providing access to parts of a local population that statutory bodies can struggle to reach.
  • Playing a vital role in maintaining community assets and services, such as libraries.
  • Leading innovative new approaches to increase community support.
  • Standing alongside local authorities in campaigns to secure more funding for community services.

They move on to suggest that authorities can further aid their local voluntary services by:

  • Adopting a good-practice approach to commissioning which includes engaging with organisations at all stages.
  • Including social value in procurement activities and implementing the requirements of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and the Cabinet Office’s 2013 Social Value Guidance when designing and procuring services.
  • Considering the flexibility and responsiveness that appropriate local grant funding, as distinct from contracts, can deliver.
  • Considering how social investment can be supported at a local level so charities and social enterprises can benefit from this form of funding.

A need to innovate

Reacting to the letter, a spokeswomen for the Local Government Association said that authorities recognised the important role charities played in communities and added that councils are always seeking innovative ways to continue working with the voluntary sector.

“As the most efficient part of the public sector, councils have managed to protect charities from many of the cuts passed down by Whitehall. Although some voluntary groups have inevitably seen their budgets reduced, every effort was made by councils to avoid this happening,” she explained.

However, she added that the voluntary sector must also innovate and make difficult decisions. “It is important that charities challenge the status quo as councils already have. For instance, this means forming larger groups to bid for funding, or making tough decisions to refocus their own organisations.”

IBB Solicitors’ charities team comments, ” We have seen first hand how the changes in the commissioning framework, combined with spending cuts have forced many local charities to the brink. Unfortunately, social investment is beyond the reach of most local VCSs. Our clients tell us that it is absolutely essential to be close to the relevant local authority in the period prior to the procurement process, when they are scoping their provision. Once the Invitation to Tender is issued, it is too late to be able to have any influence on the shape of service provision. VSCs are generally able to add more value than commercial organisations but can be less sophisticated in the way they describe and measure the benefits they provide. Focusing on these aspects can make all the difference.

“[We] have recently advised five VSCs that have merged at the request of their local authorities, to ensure that they are tender-ready.”

IBB’s team of specialist charity lawyers are experienced in delivering practical commercial advice across all areas of the law to charities, not-for-profit organisations and those who work within the charity sector. We work with our clients to help them solve problems and ensure they comply with the law and charity best practice.

If you would like further information on VSC mergers, please contact us today on 01895 207809 or email charities@ibblaw.co.uk .