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Pandemic improves ‘responsiveness’ of local authorities to charities, but new research finds smaller charities missing out

Ahead of May’s local elections, new research has found that the pandemic has offered ‘promising signs of improvement’ in relationships and collaboration between charities and local authorities.

Box of clothes donations
Smaller charities appear to have missed out on improved relationships with local authorities

Over half of the charities surveyed said local authorities have become ‘more responsive’ to their needs during coronavirus, and many charities have increased their engagement with local government. However, improvements in relationships with local authorities appear skewed towards larger charities, with smaller organisations missing out or seeing a decline.

Almost 550 organisations from the UK voluntary, community and social enterprise sector took part in the sixth survey of the Respond, Recover and Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19 project, which is led by Nottingham Trent University (NTU), the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University.

The research shows a high level of collaboration between charities and local government during the past year, with 71% of respondents reporting that they were involved in working with a local authority. Over half of respondents (52%) said that local authorities had become more responsive to their needs as a result of the pandemic.

There is also evidence of increased engagement and partnership between charities and local authorities during the pandemic, with 36% of respondents stating that they had increased their engagement with local authorities in the past year. One in four (25%) respondents reported an improved relationship with local authorities due to the pandemic, while only 7% believe their relationship had declined since March 2020.

However, the extent of these improved relationships varied dependent on the size of organisation. Larger organisations – those with annual income of £1-10 million – were more likely to see an improvement in their relationship with local authorities (33%). Smaller organisations – those with £10,000 annual income or less – saw the lowest (9%) improvement. Smaller organisations were also more likely to report a deterioration in the relationship (12%) compared to larger organisations (1%).

Daniel King, professor of organisational behaviour at Nottingham Business School, part of NTU, said: “The pandemic has revealed that in some areas local authorities and charities and volunteers have found new ways to collaborate with each other. We have seen in some local authority areas barriers were broken down, joint work undertaken and partnerships developed in ways that did not seem possible before Covid-19 hit.

"Whilst this is not true everywhere, and smaller organisations seem to be more likely to be excluded, it does demonstrate it is possible for new partnerships to be developed in ways that can be creative and beneficial to local citizens. Yet, as the initial crisis of the pandemic eases, there is a danger that things go back to business-as-usual and the silos go back up. With funding cuts on the horizon the next year is going to be challenging for many charities and voluntary organisations”.

Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at NCVO, said: “After a difficult year, the urgency of the pandemic has seen charities and volunteers working more closely with local authorities to respond to the immediate challenges of their communities. Ahead of the biggest ever set of local elections, it’s clear that this relationship will continue to be key as we work to ensure our communities are empowered, resilient and sustainable.

"Charities and other social organisations offer councils local expertise and knowledge and help local services be tailored to the needs of residents. While over half of the charities we surveyed saw an improvement in their relationship with local government, with the pandemic making local authorities more responsive, it’s clear that this is not universal and that lots of smaller charities have not seen an improvement in their relationship.

"The results also highlight that nearly half of the organisations have seen a decrease in their services but the demand for charities to provide services continues to grow, as the pandemic continues to strain communities. To support local communities and cope with increased demand at this difficult time, charities need longer-term financial support to be made available to their key partners in local government. We continue to call for central government to strengthen the long-term financial sustainability of local authorities by increasing core funding. This has a huge impact on charities around the UK.”

Among other findings, the research also showed:

  • 30% reported a deteriorating financial position the past month, 46% said their finances were stable, while 22% saw improvement. 22% expect a deterioration in their finances over the next month.
  • 48% report an increase in demand for their services over the past month, and 59% expect an increase in demand for their services over the next month.
  • 68% of respondents expect coronavirus to continue to have a moderate or significant negative impact on delivering their objectives next year, while 8% said it was likely or very likely they will no longer be operating next year.
  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email

    About the report
    The survey and report are the UK’s largest temperature check on the state of the voluntary sector during the pandemic, the Respond, Recover and Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19 project. This is led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Nottingham Trent University and Sheffield Hallam University. In this sixth wave of the report the relationship between charity and voluntary organisations and local authorities in 2020-21 was surveyed, to understand the impact of the pandemic on this relationship.

    The full report can be found here: Respond, Recover and Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19

    Information on previous editions of the research can be found here:

    About Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University
    Nottingham Business School (NBS) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is a world leader in experiential learning and personalisation of business, management and economics education and research, combining academic excellence with positive impact on people, business and society.  NBS has an unrivalled level of engagement with business, public and voluntary organisations and thus is known as the business school for business. With 6500 students, NBS is also one of UK’s largest business schools.

    NBS is accredited by EQUIS and AACSB, which are internationally recognised hallmarks of excellence and quality for business education. NBS is also accredited as accredited by Small Business Charter, supporting hundreds of businesses in the region and nationally and the School is one of only six UK business schools recognised as a PRME Champion and held up as an exemplar by the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME).  NBS courses are ranked in the Top 20 for Accounting and Finance and for Economics in The Guardian Good University Guide 2021.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    About NCVO
    The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With over 16,000 members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. We are also the lead body for volunteering in England.

Pandemic improves ‘responsiveness’ of local authorities to charities, but new research finds smaller charities missing out

Published on 20 April 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

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