Experience is one of the main attributes that Neil Cleeveley brings to the role of chief executive of Navca. He has been in the post since 1 December, but has been acting head of the Sheffield-based local infrastructure body since Joe Irvin left in July, and has worked there for 11 years.
Cleeveley believes he can present the needs of its membership network of 350 local support and development charities, and those of local communities, to national decision-makers. "Navca has the reputation of being able to use evidence to tell a story about what is happening in communities so that it resonates in a meaningful way," he says.
Cleeveley, who was a councillor in Haringey, north London, for 10 years, says he has a passion for "making people's lives better and doing practical things for the most vulnerable and deprived through the support of our members".
He says he's taking over at a challenging time of increased demands on local voluntary organisations, coupled with fewer resources because of continued budget cuts. "Indications are that it is going to get tougher, whoever wins the next general election," he says. "There is political uncertainty and we are unlikely to have a majority government. This would mean legislation being voted on bill by bill, which would create its own uncertainties."
But he also regards this as an exciting time as the voluntary sector repositions itself. "We need to think about how we can support communities and debate whether the sector should take on public services," he says. "Personally, I feel that the sector is at its strongest working alongside good services – for example, providing targeted and specialised services in healthcare, such as community solutions for low- level mental health needs. There is a real role for us there, and we need to convince public commissioners to invest in these solutions."
Cleeveley says that when he joined Navca in 2003 there was a sense that it did not have much connection with key decision-makers. He is proud that he's helped to raise its profile and that the key issues facing members and local communities are now talked about in crucial places. "I feel that we punch above our weight and have got voluntary organisations onto the national agenda," he says.
As chief executive, Cleeveley wants to encourage more campaigning – both by members and, when necessary, by Navca itself – and aims to continue getting out and about to see what is happening on the ground and form a link between local communities and government.
2014: Chief executive, Navca
2014: Deputy chief executive, Navca
2003: Director of policy and research, Navca
2000: Policy officer, Trade Union Congress
1992: Councillor, Haringey Council
1983: Systems programmer, consultant and manager for a range of businesses, most recently Total Oil.