I fully appreciate that the set of ideas I have outlined in my previous article is easy to articulate and far less easy to execute. How does a board of trustees turn down the opportunity for some funding? Or, even more difficult, how does it not try to deliver services to people in need because it cannot secure an appropriate contract? And how does it stop a more inappropriate provider being appointed?
There are no simple answers. However, delivery today and bankruptcy tomorrow is not a sustainable position. Nor is delivering poor-quality services with under-rewarded staff sustainable in the long term.
I am in no doubt that the voluntary and community sector has to redouble its effort towards building constructive relations and dialogue with local authorities and other public sector bodies so that there is mutual respect, trust and reciprocity. And this requires collective as well as individual actions. Yes, in some places there are excellent relations, with the sector fully engaged in key decisions and commissioning. But let’s be honest – this is far from the norm. The sector has to be able to measure and explain its value to local people, local communities and public authorities, and this means building alliances with local businesses and other stakeholder groups.
I accept that too many local authorities, seemingly driven by the cuts agenda, have disproportionately hit the funding of the third sector. This is wrong and misguided. However, this situation will not be remedied by national grandstanding. Rather, it requires local political action, accompanied by some skilful local diplomacy and negotiation.
Local authorities and the sector have to realise each other’s strengths and understand that they are in this together to serve local communities. For their part, local authorities and other public bodies must respect the right of the voluntary sector to choose not to deliver the services that the public sector selects for or allocates to them, on terms that are imposed by the public sector. Such autocratic behaviour is a long way from being a partnership.
The sector has to argue that, where cuts are inevitable, these should be decided in the light of a jointly agreed strategy and implemented in such a way that the sector has the opportunity, space and time to seek alternative funding or organisational responses to ensure survival. It is implicit that policies such as the right to challenge and the right to supply need to be jointly implemented locally.
Local authorities should also be encouraged to establish social investment funds for the benefit of the sector and to leverage in public and private finance to the sector. Local authorities must be persuaded that grants are important and can deliver social outcomes as well as commissioning outcomes.
The next few years are going to be extraordinarily challenging for the voluntary and community sector. It will have to draw heavily on accumulated goodwill, its resilience and its values. This means acting tactically and smartly at the local level, and strategically and collectively at the national level, in defending and promoting the sector, and thereby defending and promoting the interests of the public whom the sector seeks to serve.
John Tizard works in the business, public and social sectors. He is a trustee at Navca, Tomorrow’s People, ACF and Action Space and is on the board of the Social Investment Business. He is also a former council leader
Read Tizard's first commentary: The sector's problem: 'anger, helplessness and deep frustration'
Read Tizard's second commentary: The solution, part one: banish self pity and focus on the opportunities