In the Local Government white paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities , published in October 2006, the Government set out its intention to “work with national third (or Voluntary & Community) sector umbrella bodies to establish a standard by which local third sector bodies should organise themselves to be effectively represented on LSPs”.
A working group was convened by the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) to establish draft principles by which the sector will organise itself. Both the Office of the Third Sector and NAVCA were closely involved in these discussions. Following a consultation period, the final 26-page document Principles of representation: A framework for effective third sector participation in Local Strategic Partnerships , was published by DCLG in August 2008. It is available to download from the CLG website: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/principleofrepresentation NAVCA also produced a brief explanation of the Principles called, How principled is your partnership? which is available in hard copy from NAVCA or for download from NAVCA’s website: http://www.navca.org.uk/localvs/infobank/ilpunews/prinrep.htm
The summary document provides a brief definition of each of the seven Principles and a ‘checklist’ of suggested questions that may help identify where the Principles are – or – aren’t – being realised. Many local areas have already set up some kind of forum, network or assembly to co-ordinate third sector representation reflecting these principles.
To enable the VCS to engage in the planning and delivery of local services, a VCS forum will need to be a strategic voice, facilitating internal co-ordination and communication among local VCS sector organisations by bringing them together to identify the needs of their local communities and to develop their common understanding of which needs are the top priorities, and a partnership voice, delivering VCS representation to local public bodies such as LSPs: representation needs to be (1) authentic – representatives must be supported to represent a broad cross-section of the local VCS, not just their own or their own organisation’s interests, (2) effective – representatives must be able to influence decision making, and (3) accountable – representatives must be given ways of receiving their mandate from and reporting back to the assembly.
A forum’s objectives/functions may include: Supporting information sharing and communication within the sector and between equality and generalist third sector organisations. Facilitating networking and collaboration within the sector, and liaising with existing and developing networks of equality organisations. Identifying third sector capacity-building needs and ways in which they can be addressed. Holding data on the sector and raising its profile, and taking into account the diversity of the sector and the different dimensions of inequality and discrimination. Facilitating consultations with the sector appropriate to the diverse needs and requirements of the sector.
All evaluation and monitoring procedures developed by the forum will take account of the inclusiveness of the forum, and promote active outreach to marginalised communities with regular monitoring. All processes and actions developed by the forum will be transparent and open to scrutiny. The forum will monitor the impact of its activity in relation to the equality and diversity of the sector. Co-ordinating third sector representation on multi-agency strategic partnership bodies. Promoting Compact development and compliance.
It is important that the local VCS commits itself to establishing, developing and supporting Excellent infrastructure – the local support and development organisation such as the council for voluntary services, community empowerment network, voluntary action group and/or volunteer centre will usually be central to this process Excellent networking that engages not only large, well-established local VCS groups but also the small, often informal, ‘under the radar’ groups that work with the most marginalised and excluded members of society, as well as local specialist forums e.g. Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgendered (LGBT), Faiths forums, and national umbrella bodies such as NAVCA
The role of the VCS forum in relationship to cross-sector partnership working with other agencies on public bodies such as LSPs is three-fold: It must seek to represent the diversity of work that the local VCS undertakes with local communities – this may include providing services to younger or older people, people living with disabilities or learning difficulties, people who are poor, vulnerable or homeless, people facing discrimination, violence or hate-crime… the list is virtually endless and will includes work covered by almost every one of the National Indicators to be found in any local area agreement It must aspire to bring the local VCS together, even where there may be internal tensions of disagreements, to speak to public and private sector partner organisations with as united a voice as possible It must find ways of demonstrating the value – and value for money – that the wide range of VCS activities in the local area represent, especially when compared with the potential cost to the local authority of having to provide these services in other ways
There are (at least) four key questions to consider when exploring the creation of a new forum, which may also be used for reference once the forum is established, to ensure that it remains ‘on track’: What is the purpose of your forum? How will its objectives help it fulfil its purpose? How will it secure a balance between internal co-ordination of the sector and external partnership working with the public sector? How will it ensure the commitment to the promotion of equality and diversity within the third sector and its engagement of the most marginalised sectors?
The variety of models for VCS forums that have been and are being developed demonstrates the importance of areas not having a single, ‘one size fits all’ model imposed on them Bradford District Assembly operates within a well-established unitary local authority area. Its membership is open to small community groups, voluntary sector groups and organisations, local networks & umbrella organisations and neighbourhood groups, but has a sub-structure of five thematic forums on Environment, Health & Wellbeing, Regeneration & Prosperity, Safe Communities and Young Lives. Its aims are to: (1) Enable communication and collaborative working between the voluntary and community sector and the Bradford District Partnership Board via elected Forum Reps, themed meetings, events and consultation; (2) Promote the role of the voluntary and community sector within local planning, policy, strategic decision-making and commissioning arrangements; (3) Inform and influence decision making partnerships; and (4) Ensure the voices of marginalised groups and communities are heard and equally considered. Central Bedfordshire 3 rd Sector Assembly, has been developed in response to the creation of a new unitary local authority structure. It brings a wide variety of local VCS frontline groups together and aims to: (1) Provide opportunities for the third /sector to influence statutory sector policies, strategies and decisions; (2) Ensure effective third sector representation; and (3) Ensure successful partnership working with the statutory sector. Unlike these two, Warwickshire VCS Assembly operates within a multi-tier local authority area of 4 district councils (North Warwickshire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Rugby and Warwick – the VCS in Stratford works independently), Coventry city council and Warwickshire county council. It is itself a partnership project of the two local VCS support and development organisations, Voluntary Action Coventry and Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action. The Assembly
In addition to the publications mentioned already, NAVCA has published a series of guidance sheets on developing representation structures in partnership working which area available to download from our website. These are accompanied by a range of other documents looking at the policy background to the design, delivery and evaluation of local services, the skills needed by VCS representatives on public partnerships and the structures that representatives may need to engage with.
“ Getting it together…”
Setting up a voluntary & community sector assembly
Government intention to “work with national third (VCS) sector umbrella bodies to establish a standard by which local third sector bodies should organise themselves to be effectively represented on LSPs”
Strong and Prosperous Communities Local Government white paper October 2006