By Warren Escadale, Acting Chief Executive, Voluntary Sector North West

VSNW welcomes the final report of The Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure, of which we were proud to be a constituent member. The report provides the opportunity to put the issue of infrastructure (what it needs to do, how it needs to adapt, and how it needs to be supported and financed) firmly back on the national agenda. The Commission states that: “If the message to funders is to invest, the message to infrastructure has to be to change. This must be a ‘something for something’ deal.”

Clearly, we need to find ways to seize the moment and pick up the momentum created by the report. It needs further action and VSNW, for instance, will talk to local, regional and national partners about the way forward.

I think we need to develop a ‘deal’ that includes the sector more broadly (not just infrastructure). It is up to us to develop that discussion, and more importantly to develop mechanisms to effectively reconnect our sector – in reality and rhetoric – to a social change agenda. Infrastructure is a vital means to do that. And the leadership of the Lottery in thinking and action as a catalytic investor is evidently necessary.

Too often, we seem to be on the back foot, caught between plugging the growing gaps in the welfare state and competing in a public service delivery agenda that tends to compromise our values, and even sometimes put us at odds with the very communities we strive to work for. Fenced-in, pigeon-holed and divided, we obsess about infrastructure without consciously connecting it to our sector’s grander vision, mission and potential.

I know this sounds like words, but this is the central policy issue of our time. We keep being told we are marginal players in this world, but we really are not, and this is why…

Consciously or unconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, public sector partners, think-tanks, academics, politicians, and policy-makers inevitably come back to the issue of change. More concretely, at this moment the biggest ‘wicked issue’ of all is: Do we fix or do we grow communities?

For me, this is about how we develop alternatives to the model of Broken Britain, troubled families, spot purchasing, and deficit-driven intervention models. This is where we need to talk about lasting change, created through a focus on quality of life and wellbeing.

There are allies and there are new alliances to be made. I think the relationship with a public health agenda and the public health world is vital at this point and it’s pleasing to see that Public Health England are returning to regional structures in the summer. We need to think clearly about how we engage, support, challenge and nurture this crucial relationship and the work of Directors of Public Health where we can and get involved in essential discussions about what might be called (amongst many other things) “untapping community assets”.

As part of that conversation, we need to re-imagine and re-engineer the functions and internal relations of our world of big and small, national and local, and policy and implementation. This is the context – ‘growing communities’ – that gives our sector and our infrastructure purpose and immeasurable value. So, as well as talking to infrastructure, we will be talking to larger VCSE providers about how we make this rhetoric a reality.

If you are a larger VCSE provider that operates in the North West, and are interested in attending a roundtable discussion from 12noon to 2pm on Thursday 26th March, please contact me – warren.escadale@vsnw.org.uk

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