Skip to main content
Sara Llewellin, Chair of the Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure , and Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, blogs about the next steps following the recent launch of the report of the Commission and her hopes for “leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy” infrastructure.


Oxford Dictionary definition of infrastructure: The basic physical and organisational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.


NAVCA launched the Commission’s report to a packed house of VCS representatives from across England at a House of Commons event last week. Although this marked the end of the Commission’s role, it was just the start of a process of change, not an end in itself.


There was no doubt in the room about the importance of infrastructure to the wellbeing of communities and the need to recognise, nurture and enable it, but there was always going to be disagreement about how infrastructure support should be provided and what might need to change to make it work


The economic downturn, austerity, the welfare reform agenda and reductions to central government and local authority budgets are all impacting on social action adversely, with a heady cocktail of rising needs, reduced resources and a climate of anger and fear. Local infrastructure bodies are themselves experiencing loss of income; many are facing uncertainty and looking for new ways to serve their communities with less cash.


The Commission’s task was to undertake an analysis of what the sector needs from its infrastructure and to make proposals about what needs to change for those needs to be met. We knew a call for more money and a return to the previous status quo was out of the question. Things have changed, we’re in a ‘new normal’, and proposals based on asking for things rather than offering a change agenda will fall on deaf ears.


So we went out on the road and talked to people in various parts of England, mindful of the different challenges of the North and South, rural, urban and city settings. Everywhere we went, we found good things happening. Everyone we talked to had good examples of proactive change and some of these are included in the report. Every change we are recommending is happening in some places.


There is every reason to be optimistic about the resilience of community action but no room for complacency about how best to support it. The real punch line is that yes, infrastructure does deserve and need to be financed, but that it also has to undergo a redesign. It needs to be leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy. It needs to act as a lever bringing in new resources to the sector, including social investment, crowd funding and pro bono support. It needs to be the enabler of voice and the advocate of community action. It needs to collaborate and share more cost effectively. Above all, it needs to help the sector with foresight and managing change, because the pace of change is not going to slow.


These were our conclusions, but what will happen next? NAVCA will support and promote the implementation of the Commission’s findings, publishing a review of progress in early 2016. It will provide opportunities for local infrastructure bodies and their partners to learn from each other and offer mutual advice and support, as well as hosting a series of round table events in partnership with NCVO for local, national and specialist infrastructure organisations to create a collaborative approach to shaping the future of local infrastructure, working with funders at all levels to develop creative and sustainable solutions to secure the future of infrastructure, ensure that NAVCA itself complies with and models the best qualities of an infrastructure body as described by the Commission, and continually challenge its members to do the same.   Download the report here.