The changing role of the third sector 

Local authorities are “not making the best use of the third sector” according to a report published by the Wales A udit Office (WAO).

​​Recent legislative changes and the ongoing impact of austerity have impacted on the internal and external landscape for local authorities and the third sector. With Welsh Government envisaging a growing role for the third sector in delivering services, and with changing expectations, the WAO report acknowledges the current climate presents the third sector with both opportunity and risk.

A walk in the park, with Age Connects Cardiff and the Vale. Age Connects volunteers provide much needed support and company to older people in the local area. One of the top 15 photographs in WCVA’s Members Photography Contest 2014. 
As the third sector faces changes to its role, remit, funding and status these risks need to be carefully managed. Age Alliance Wales believes that the changing role of the sector must be seen as more than providing ‘cost effective’ service delivery through improved commissioning, or ‘plugging gaps’ left by public sector cuts. The real change needs to be greater engagement with the third sector in strategic design and delivery of public services at a national and local level.​

Within the landscape of shrinking budgets and the increased reliance on third sector provided services, the sector should not compromise its autonomy and independence. The third sector is uniquely placed to provide insight, expertise and direction in strategic discussions, and also bring knowledge and understanding of the individuals supported. It must strike the difficult balance between service delivery and representing voices, and maintain independence from Government.

This cannot be done alone. To meet the aspirations of Welsh Government and the needs of individuals, the third sector, local authorities and public bodies must create effective and sustainable partnerships. While Age Alliance Wales agrees with the report’s call for local authorities to develop corporate-wide strategies, to integrate funding approaches across departments and to prioritise preventative services, we would emphasise the need for an increased role for the third sector in supporting, participating and contributing at a strategic level.

Further to the WAO report there is now a critical need and opportunity for all sectors to engage in honest and open dialogue that increases understanding and collaboration. In their recent report ‘Commissioning in Crisis’ Lloyds Bank Foundation identified that to bring about changes needed, increased understanding is vital for effective commissioning and co-production[1]. Age Alliance Wales will be working in partnership with the third sector and with the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care to facilitate a proposed series of discussions between the third sector, local authorities and public bodies. These debates will help inform understanding and the importance of strategic roles. Proactive discussions will ensure more than a service delivery role or capacity building of the third sector. It will provide opportunities for the best return on investment, better public services and enable positive outcomes for older people. 

Mitigating risks and enhancing current opportunities will only be realised by embedding sustainable strategic relationships between the third and public sector.