My recent visit to the London borough of Haringey brought home to me how much more difficult it is for local councils and charities to work together in austere times. As councils' budgets are cut back, competition for grants and contracts becomes more severe and the goodwill and trust built up through years of partnership working are put under strain.
I was in the Enterprise Centre on Tottenham High Road for the conference to launch the Haringey Association of Voluntary and Community Organisations' strategic plan. The building itself is a symbol of community resilience – it was badly damaged by fire in the 2011 riots but is now restored and buzzes with charities and social entrepreneurs.
I shared the platform with Labour councillor Peter Morton, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Haringey Council. He acknowledged that as government cuts are hitting local authorities there will be an impact on charities, but said any reduction in grants would, of course, be difficult. Despite the now predictable emphasis on "empowering local people to do more for themselves", it struck me he was doing his best to be helpful. Speaking to a hall full of Haringey's voluntary sector leaders, he promised round-table events with commissioners "to open council officers' eyes to your potential" and personal initiatives to bring local charities together with private companies.
Graham Duncan, chair of Havco and chief executive of Action for Kids, a charity that helps young people with disabilities to get into work, mixed realism with optimism when we talked later about Morton's speech. Duncan said: "In the medium term, Haringey's voluntary sector will get smaller. For some, the cuts will be fatal and we will lose essential support for very vulnerable people. But in the longer term I am quite positive. We need to work differently, evidencing our success and bringing in funding from other sources. Havco has to help the voluntary and public sectors to develop a common, collective understanding of how key social challenges can be overcome."
Havco's own funding difficulties have prevented it from appointing a permanent chief executive, but people were keen to tell me how important its services are. Gail Priddey, chief executive of Haga, a local alcohol treatment service, said: "Its ebulletins are great, the voluntary and community sector forum gives us opportunities for dialogue with the council and the range of training is useful." Margaret Thorli, founder of employment training company Hope and Restoration, praised Havco's support for writing funding bids.
Nobody disguised how tough working conditions are in Haringey right now, but I came away impressed by the energy sector leaders and the local authority are putting into new ways of working.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser