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This is the second blog in a series of blogs from our Fellows of Practice 2020 on how outcomes based contracts are adapting in light of Covid-19 (read our first bog with Gail Gibbons here) In this piece Tom Davies, Manager at Social Finance explores how local government and the community have worked together during the Covid-19 pandemic, what has worked well and what this means for the future. 
At the online Social Outcomes Conference this September we are exploring outcomes based contracts and Covid-19. You can explore the programme here.

Local leads the way

For local government and the social sector, the last few months have been time of great challenge and change. But many of the good news stories about the Covid response have come from local areas.

Community organisations – social sector providers, charities, faith organisations, social enterprises, small businesses, and the thousands of new mutual aid groups – have played a vital role: delivering supplies to vulnerable residents, supporting the socially isolated, and helping households hardest hit by lockdown and the economic downturn. 

And many councils, faced with challenges far beyond their own means, have shifted overnight their role to coordinator and facilitator for other local partners. These local responses have proven flexible and quick to act while some central programmes have suffered technical and organisational problems. Blackpool, for example, quickly established 12 Corona Kindness Hubs to distribute supplies and provide other emergency support for residents, 9 of which are led by community organisations.

Sustaining the new relationship

Social Finance are working with several councils to help plan for the next phases of the Covid response and re-build, using a methodology based on scenario planning One of the strongest and most consistent themes of these conversations is a desire to re-think the relationship between local government and community partners. 

There have been similar calls from community organisations. Both Locality and Power to Change have made the case for making community organisations the cornerstone of locally-led social and economic recovery. The National Lottery’s new Emerging Futures Fund is designed to give community organisations the space to explore what new infrastructure is needed to support the groundswell of local initiative and care that sprung up through the Covid-19 crisis.

Time is against them, though. As places and the economy re-open, engagement from furloughed volunteers will fall. And 1 in 10 charities face bankruptcy by the end of the year.

How then can local government and communities build on and sustain their new relationships?

Two options

While Covid has undoubtedly exposed and created new vulnerabilities in communities, the loss of services like day centres, domiciliary care, and support for families who fall below the child social care threshold has not been as bad as some councils expected. Community organisations may be able to provide more flexible, peer-led care and support for those with relatively lower needs, with councils providing resources and infrastructure for collaboration.

Alliance contracts, such as the Plymouth Alliance for adults with complex needs, are another way of creating long-term partnerships working towards shared outcomes. This shifts the government-community relationship from one of customer and service provider to creating ‘community capital’ and long-term change.

These are just two initial options that have emerged from our conversations with councils, and there are many issues to work through, such as governance and data systems that can capture systemic outputs and outcomes. And it will take concerted commitment from government to continue and deepen the sharing of power and resources.

It is likely, however, that councils will only have capacity to make a small number of wholesale changes to the way it works over the next 12 to 24 months given ongoing day-to-day challenges and the risk of workforce burnout. Establishing a new relationship with communities must be one.