How councils can help charities manage the impact of funding cuts
This blog was originally published on the Guardian Local Government Network on 2nd November 2011. It is the second in a five-part series on best practice between local authorities and the voluntary sector. The series is based on the recommedations and case studies of NCVO's Best Practice Guide for Local Authorities and the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).
Offer in-kind support
With many local authorities making difficult budget decisions, the effects are often felt by local voluntary organisations. However, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of funding reductions.
There are key costs involved in keeping a charity running, allowing an organisation to carry out its mission and for its impact to be felt in the community it serves. NCVO has heard interesting reports from some local authorities which now offer in-kind support to local voluntary and community organisations. This can help to mitigate the effects of the cuts on the limited resources with which some charities work.
Councillor Sandra Harrison, portfolio holder for communities at East Lindsey district council in Lincolnshire, said that by helping alleviate the cost of back office functions to their local voluntary sector, the council had ensured that project funding "maximised support to the sector".
This work is in line with the government's "big society" agenda, which aims to encourage social action. In this year's Giving white paper, councils were urged to give "time, money, assets and skills" to support the voluntary sector.
For some local authorities, offering in kind-support has been as simple as providing free use of meeting rooms in council office to voluntary groups. Others have brokered more structured arrangements, sharing IT servers or office space with local organisations. With increased demands on the third sector, this can be one way of tackling the shortfall in resources that many organisations face.
Cheshire West and Chester council is providing an IT server to the local citizens advice bureau. It has also distributed unused office furniture to local voluntary organisations and found office space for a credit union. Staffing is also considered; a senior manager has been seconded to support the work of the local Third Sector Assembly.
In Ealing, the council is also looking into joint purchasing opportunities with their local council for voluntary service. East Lindsey has created a voluntary sector hub in its headquarters and has used the council's area offices and additional community buildings to provide outreach services. Gateshead council has sought to encourage volunteering, leading by example through the introduction of an employee scheme which allows council workers to take unpaid leave to volunteer in their community.
What are the benefits?
As well as the clear cost-saving benefits of such in-kind support, councils have told us that sharing office space has made working together easier for the public and voluntary sectors. Joint IT systems can also help councils and charities share helpful local data.
The co-location of charities and councils also helps to develop local and professional understanding; it breaks down communication barriers and helps both sectors to understand the ways the other works, and aids the evolution of new working practices which allow the two parties to complement one other.
Local authorities should make sure they talk to local voluntary groups to ensure that any offer of support will actually benefit their organisations. This in-kind work is no replacement for agreed funding arrangements.
Blog: Policy team
The latest policy news and advice from the NCVO Policy team. Blogs by Charlotte Ravenscroft.