The LGA Conference: a voluntary sector perspective

Rachel WhartonThis time last week, I was at the final day of the LGA Conference in Manchester, and I feel like I learnt so much from it that I should take the time now to share some of my thoughts with you.

I was lucky enough to attend all three days of the conference, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be disorganized like some conferences I’ve been to, would it be confusing and would it be relevant? Fortunately the conference was well organized, not at all confusing and very relevant. 

We are always on the lookout for examples of good practice in local partnership working, so we decided to attend the LGA conference to see if we could find about new and different examples of best practice which we could share with others, as well as giving us a chance to share our knowledge on partnership working. The conference definitely presented me with some new examples of partnership working and gave us a lot to think about when engaging with local authorities. 

The conference had a huge area for exhibitors and I was pleasantly surprised to see some voluntary and community organisations in attendance. The Woodland Trust was there, highlighting some of the partnership work they do with local councils, such as a tree planting partnership with Stoke on Trent City Council. The Community Development Foundation were also there, promoting their Community First project, which is supported by the Office for Civil Society.    
‘Innovation’ seemed to be a conference buzz word, and the LGA had even provided an area dedicated to promoting innovative solutions to current problems. The ‘Innovation Zone’ was presided over by NESTA and gave space to some exciting new digital and social innovations that were tackling issues from health to engagement. Three of the most interesting were:

  • Tyze, a social enterprise that lets you establish a personal online network to coordinate the care of loved ones,
  • Spice, a social enterprise that develops agency timebanking systems for communities and public services, and
  • Casserole Club, where members can share extra portions of home cooked food with others in their area who might not always be able to cook for themselves.

I felt like the ‘Innovation Zone’ was an important tool for demonstrating creative solutions to common problems and highlighting the amazing work, and successes, of the voluntary and community sector.

It wasn’t solely the exhibitors and Innovation Zone that were exciting, I was also impressed with all the various talks and workshops I attended - many of which stressed the importance of cross-party working in areas to achieve wider benefits for the community.

I thought this was important in marking a change in direction for local authorities. Increasingly tight budgets coupled with the likelihood of further reductions in spending mean that things have to change in public services. This was the overriding message in the LGA’s Rewiring Public Services document. Though it did contain some more ‘out there’ suggestions it also included more easily achievable proposals that could alter public service delivery for the better, and include the voluntary and community sector.

The emphasis in the Rewiring Public Services is on partnership working across departments within local authorities, by bringing local services and decisions together - meaning that services can work together and join up across their traditional boundaries. One example the LGA gave of this was through health and wellbeing boards, stating that they should involve the full range of health services, including community, mental health and acute trusts. Here we have an opening for voluntary and community organisations to jump in and get involved with health and wellbeing boards. The more that do, the easier it will become for others in the future.  

Overall it would have been nice to hear the voluntary and community sector mentioned more frequently over the duration of the conference, but despite this I was still left feeling hopeful for future possibilities of collaboration and partnership working across the sectors, and I hope after reading this that you are too.

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