8. Working with local authorities to deliver support to those at risk
Respondents who have worked with local authorities during the Covid crisis describe a range of ways they have done so. The most commonly referred to being:
Working together on local/community coordination and emergency response groups.
Taking referrals and delivering support.
Receiving, sharing and contributing to information, guidance and intelligence, e.g. ‘We have gathered information from surveys, phone calls, emails etc and fed them in to COSLA’.
Identifying need - ‘We have been working alongside the local hubs and schools trying to identify anyone that may be in need but not entitled to any of the government handouts.’
Where respondents have worked with LAs, many describe the third sector providing the initial response to support people in their community during Covid, then later working with LAs to identify need, deliver support (which third sector organisations have done through referrals or on a grant or contractual basis) and co-develop information and plans:
‘After a few weeks local authority staff started engaging with the third sector once again, …but there was no engagement during the early stages of lockdown at all.’
‘Initially, whilst everyone was finding their feet, I felt that the local authorities were not helpful to us. The helpline they set up saw us getting inappropriate referrals. However as things settled things improved.’
‘We pre-empted the local council and established a coordinating group linking those providing food and essential supplies. We operated alone in this role for a month before the council were ready to take over this activity. The council lead group evolved from our group and in six weeks we are able to fall back to a support role for local groups.’
Many respondents have not worked with LAs during the crisis: it is possible some of the responses from smaller community organisations reflect this, whilst intermediaries like TSIs would be more likely to engage LAs. Some respondents suggested that LAs ‘only interact with TSIs’, others suggested LAs work ‘in parallel’:
‘We have been in contact with local authorities, but have mainly provided services without much input from local authority.’
‘We offered to support LA at very start of lockdown, email acknowledged but no follow up at any stage.’
‘Most of the support we are giving is direct with local communities and in partnership with other voluntary groups, community groups and a few social enterprises. The public sector has not been as active on the ground.’
Respondents’ assessments of working relationships with local authorities were mostly positive (70%) or neither positive nor negative (23%) as shown in Figure 4. The neither positive nor negative responses are likely to include those who haven’t worked with local authorities during Covid.
A wide range of reasons was given for these assessments. There was a lot of positive feedback about working with LAs, for example:
‘The support from our local authority has been first class. Efficient, timely, sympathetic.’
‘During this pandemic, working relationships with the Local Authority have strengthened and consolidated the partnership.’
Much of the positive feedback highlighted enhanced collaborative working:
‘I feel we have worked well and felt included more than usual. We have been receiving referrals and been referring back to services.’
‘LA have recognised the benefits of models of service design being led by community organisations and locally based charities to ensure a crisis response which is flexible, adaptable, removing barriers and improving speed of “on the ground” delivery through a mutual goal and sharing of resources.’
‘Many opportunities for real collaborative working.’
‘During this crisis we were working closer than ever’
A number of comments hoped that increased collaborative working would continue, for example: ‘Hopefully post COVID partnerships will not revert to Council first, third sector an after thought, there have been many positive partnerships evident’.
However, there were also a lot of negative comments. Some of these are about insufficient engagement and communication:
‘Not much partnership working since lockdown. LA working in an insular way without understanding the benefits Third Sector organisations can bring to the wider community.’
‘Communication between services and agencies has not been very efficient.’
‘We have had little involvement with our local authority, often picking up on areas they'd normally attend to for example, local community maintenance.’
Other comments pointed to what was seen as an imbalanced partnership or lack of clarity about respective roles:
‘Tends to be one way - they refer’
‘When they speak of partnership/collaboration it means a hierarchical situation, with all that entails.’
‘The local authority decided to develop their own volunteer process and brokerage service despite this being one of the core roles of the third sector interface. This led to confusion for people wishing to volunteer their time.’
Other feedback raised a variety of more mixed and nuanced points:
‘Speaking for many in the Voluntary Sector we have found the use of the term volunteers by local authorities to be misleading. Many have spoken about the number of volunteers that have been for example delivering food boxes etc. Often these people have been redeployed paid staff not volunteers.’
‘We worked well with the crisis team call handlers although they themselves frequently seemed confused as to the support available in-house and often called our helpline to refer people for services which were also available from the LA’.
‘The majority of partnership working that has taken place has been informal and based on personal relationships as opposed to formal information sharing and regular communication.’
‘We have had little direct contact with our local authority, but as part of the local third sector, our local TSI has been both a source of information between parties, and a conduit for wider information and strategic planning.’
Finally a number of respondents highlighted that the quality of relations and performance varied considerably both within and between LAs, for example – ‘This has been patchy, depends on the local authority’.
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