Lloyds Bank Foundation speaks at House of Lords Public Services Committee

Lloyds Bank Foundation Chief Exec Paul Streets speaking

Over the past few months, we’ve been hearing from charities across England and Wales about how they’ve responded to the impact of coronavirus in their local communities. So we were really pleased to be able to feed what we’ve heard into to the House of Lords Public Services Committee when our chief executive, Paul Streets, was asked to speak as part of their inquiry looking at what can be learned from how public services have responded during the pandemic, including the role of charities.

Small and local charities have responded quickly because of their unique role in communities

Charities have always been at the forefront of supporting people through challenges, and during the pandemic they have never been more needed. Right from the beginning of the crisis, we heard that local charities have responded and adapted quickly as the pandemic began to impact their communities.

Whether working with their local council to deliver emergency food parcels, helping people experiencing homelessness to find somewhere to stay, or shifting their counselling services online.

We know that local charities have been able to respond so quickly in this way because of the unique role they play in their local communities.

As our Value of Small research showed, small charities are often created with, by and for the communities they work with, so it is through the strength of their relationships that they understand quickly what is needed.

This is particularly important given the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities that existed before, and specialist organisations are often best placed to understand and respond to this. They have the flexibility to shift and adapt quickly, bring in additional resources and act as the ‘glue’ that holds communities together.

Collaboration and commissioning

Much of the local response to coronavirus has depended on strong partnerships between different agencies and organisations. We’ve seen some local councils increasingly recognise the importance of local charities in responding to local needs during the crisis.

Where charities were already delivering contracts for local authorities, some commissioners have responded by increasing flexibility in contracts, enabling charities to adapt to a changing context and ensuring people can still access the support they need, even if it’s delivered in a different way.

In the best cases, charities have been involved in local strategy and planning right from the beginning as the crisis hit. By bringing together different agencies in the area, they have been able to take a more coordinated approach to things like food provision and volunteer management.

Challenges

While there have been some really good examples of collaboration and adaptation, there have also been many challenges.

Many charities have seen income disappear overnight, with BAME-led organisations being hardest hit. At the same time demand for their services has rocketed, as issues such as domestic abuse or mental ill health intensified during lockdown. The support charities provide has never been more needed.

Charities have also had to overhaul how they deliver support overnight – while most of their support may have been face-to-face or group work, they’ve had to shift to online or telephone support.

While this works for some, the digital divide means that many people are at risk of being excluded – such as asylum seekers and refugees living without mobile phones or data allowances, or older people with lower levels of digital literacy.

Digital delivery has opened up new opportunities during the crisis, but there will always be a need for face-to-face support, especially given that so much of the work charities do is based on strong, trusting relationships.

What next?

While we might be past the initial emergency response, there are still big challenges ahead. How can we learn from this to ensure public services are effective in providing what’s needed going forward? The pandemic has shown that things can be done differently and we need to build on that for the future.

Local authority budgets were stretched even before the crisis, with the areas that most need funding being hardest hit, and this has only worsened over recent weeks, with some authorities facing potential bankruptcy. Local authorities need more sustainable funding from central government.

In this context, it’s also crucial that they make sure every pound brings value for communities. The pandemic has shown that there’s no better way of doing this than looking to local organisations first.

Our work with Locality has shown that councils can generate more value for their communities and deliver better services by taking a Keep It Local approach. Areas which had the strongest relationships between public, private and voluntary sectors have been able to respond to the crisis most effectively.  Now is the time to join the growing network of Keep it Local councils to spread this movement as we rebuild from the crisis.

To ensure people can access the support they need from local charities, it would be great to see statutory agencies funding and working in partnership with charities in ways that trust them with the flexibility to respond and adapt to meet the needs of their local communities.

Although guidance from the Cabinet Office encouraged this flexibility during the crisis, we know that this approach has not been seen everywhere.

While the guidance talks about transitioning back to how things were before, we know that old commissioning practices weren’t working well for people and communities, and we’ve seen that it can be done differently. Whether your charity has had positive or negative experiences of commissioning during the pandemic, we’d love to hear from you to help us keep making the case for a better long term approach to commissioning.

You can watch Paul’s session with the committee to hear more about what was discussed. We look forward to seeing the committee’s report in the coming weeks.

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