New report argues for councils to be given the tools to continue their support to volunteer and charity groups

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2021 | 04 August 2021

 A new report showcases how county authorities stepped up to help keep community groups afloat during the pandemic – and argues councils should be given the tools to continue their support.

The report, Councils and Communities in Partnership, released today, highlights how county authorities helped to protect local charity and volunteer groups during the early stages of the pandemic where fundraising was put on hold. It finds that smaller and medium-sized charity groups have been most likely to look to their local authority for support during that period.

Produced by the County Councils Network, the study finds that from North Yorkshire to Kent county authorities offered support to keep these organisations afloat. Help included immediate grants followed by hardship to ensure their survival, rent holidays for any group in council-owned buildings, and increases in fees paid to groups who deliver public services such as social care.

CCN says that county authorities have shown themselves to be at the heart of their communities: helping to co-ordinate the mass volunteer efforts that sprung up in the early months of the pandemic, by signposting people and helping get groups off the ground. The report says that this is another example of how county authorities can deliver locally and at the countywide, strategic level.

But looking ahead to the recovery period, the report finds that the infrastructure for smaller and medium sized charity groups in many local areas is ‘patchy’, despite the best efforts of Councils for Voluntary Services and other organisations. Some, such as Mutual Aid Networks, sprung up organically during the pandemic during a groundswell in people taking part in community action in the first half of 2020.

However, in many cases these groups now are looking to their council for support to continue their good work which is still needed during the recovery period.

It says the county council or unitary council in each area could step into the breach – and offer help for these groups to move towards greater professionalisation: assistance with setting up, events, recruiting volunteers, and applying for funding.

But the report concludes local authorities will be hard pressed to continue the support the offered in lockdown periods on the same scale in the future as they are under significant financial pressure and recommends that councils are given the funding and tools to ‘nurture’ community groups.

This could include resource for charity and volunteer groups in the any Coronavirus Recovery Funding from the government, so county authorities are able to support community growth and consolidate volunteer efforts over the past 18 months.

The CCN says that whilst it is vital that councils have sufficient funding to deliver services and meet long-term spending needs, local authorities need to be appropriately resourced to provide the infrastructure to support community groups in standing on their own two feet.

This could include helping the voluntary sector by offering practical support and grant funding so these groups can continue to exist.

The report also recommends that there should be adequate infrastructure in place in local areas for charity and volunteer groups, including both the local authority and the CVS.

Additionally, the report says that councils’ responses to supporting voluntary work are most effective when led by what these groups say they want, not by imposing terms on these groups, whilst simpler processes for monitoring and grant services will also give these groups the freedoms to grow.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, Communities Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:

“The groundswell of community action has been one of the few rays of light during the pandemic, bolstering what was an already strong voluntary and community sector. At the same time, many groups found themselves in difficulty owing to the suspension of normal fundraising activity, and our report highlights how county authorities stepped up to help keep them afloat during this difficult period.

“In looking ahead to the recovery period, county authorities are uniquely placed to step up and offer support in nurturing these groups, both new and old –  from helping with setting up events, providing oversight, and in applying for money – alongside providing them with grant funding directly.

“This report makes some key recommendations on how councils can support the volunteer energy in our communities and not only ensure these groups’ survival but take them to the next level.”