Why local VCS infrastructure organisations are crucial to public sector reform, and how we can work with local government to accelerate change

May 2, 2024

As councillors and mayors are elected and re-elected to local seats this May, they face significant challenges and pressure to deliver not only basic services for communities, but hope for a better future. The voluntary sector and local authorities clearly have common ambition to see communities flourish, so how do we work together to make this happen? In this blog post, Maddy Desforges, CEO at NAVCA, explores the critical role of local infrastructure in supporting public sector reform, and where NAVCA members can work with local government to enact positive change.

With reduced funding, public services are struggling to meet rising demand. We need a seismic shift away from centrally driven, uniform public services to ones which reflect and meet local needs. Change to public service delivery needs to come from within individual councils, but the voluntary and community sector (VCS) has an important role to drive change too. That role and influence doesn’t happen by accident, but relies on effective support structures which bring community organisations together, build capacity, foster partnerships, and provide leadership – this is the role of local infrastructure organisations.  

Part of the role of local infrastructure organisations (LIOs) is as constructive disruptors, seeking to influence system change so VCS organisations can bring their strengths to the fore for the benefit of communities. If strong partnerships were replicated across the country; if local government and the VCS work together in strategic collaboration; if we recognise the strengths and assets of each sector, we could see the transformation of public service, a strengthened VCS, and thriving communities where individuals have greater agency to take social action.

Local infrastructure organisations can’t step into that role in isolation, but need to work in partnership with local government to make the difference. That means, together, we need to focus on:

·      Strategy development and clarity of outcomes: developing a long-term strategy for communities, including public sector reform. This means identifying the outcomes which matter to people, and being sector-neutral on how they are achieved.

·      Work with communities: engaging and communicating well, understanding people’s concerns and priorities. The VCS can do this without a party-political lens, using relationships developed overtime, and bringing a long-term view to the fore, rather than being driven by an election cycle.

·      Co-design of services and support: drawing on all the information and knowledge about a place and its needs, working with the VCS at an early stage to define problems and design services to meet need.

·      Holistic delivery: drawing problems together, focusing on prevention. We need to look at commissioning for the long term, and investing in organisations which bring wider value, so that we can share power across communities.


Local infrastructure organisations have a role as a thought leader and a driver of change. By focusing on their convening role within the VCS and across sectors, building trusted relationships, and bringing their skills and experience to the fore, NAVCA members can shape public sector reform from the outside in ways which might not be possible from within. LIOs can make sure change is focused and relevant, draw on all the strengths and assets of the VCS, and be the constructive disrupter and enabler. They can challenge perceived wisdom, bring fresh ideas, often make connections between different priorities and focus on the longer term. This way, we can ensure public services meet need, and don’t miss the point.


We can see the narrative changing, as we see the leadership role of local infrastructure organisations developing to enhance public sector reform. That is being welcomed and embraced in some places, and we need to accelerate the change. We know the important role of a thriving VCS, supported by strong local infrastructure. Let’s work together to take our place as key partners to local government, to bring about the seismic shifts we need in public service delivery to meet people’s needs and build thriving communities.

Photo by Vardan Papikyan on Unsplash