Faith and belief organisations do not simply provide for the needs of their own communities but are also motivated to seek to serve the community at large. In both respects it is important that they enter into dialogue with statutory authorities (eg unitary, county and district councils, the health service and the emergency services), the private sector and other organisations in the voluntary and community sector. In part this is because the people that make up faith and belief communities can sometimes have particular needs, or face particular challenges, about which large secular organisations may not be well informed. At times it can be necessary to seek flexibility in the way in which those organisations carry out their work so that people of a particular faith or belief are not directly or indirectly discriminated against. On the other hand, in also offering to serve the whole community, it is useful to co-ordinate with other providers of similar services, to be aware of the standards that have to be met and to understand the legal context in which public services have to be delivered.
The opportunities to communicate and work in partnership with statutory authorities and other organisations are sometimes found very locally and at other times can result from discussions at across districts and the County of Devon. In the latter case, the sharing of information and planning happens largely through bodies called Strategic Partnerships. Strategic Partnerships aim to combine the different sorts of knowledge (from things that are happening ‘on the ground’ to proposals from national Government to change guidance, legislation and funding in a particular area of work) so that together the participating organisations can serve the people of their area more effectively and in a more ‘joined up’ way.
Since 2010, Strategic Partnerships have had a comparatively narrow remit, focusing on how best to manage funding cuts to public services while seeking to maximise the benefit to the whole community from the resources that are still available. This situation has created both threats and opportunities for voluntary and community sector organisations, including those that proceed from faith and belief communities. Through new commissioning processes there are potentially new openings for getting involved in delivering a whole range of public services (for example around community cohesion, or care services). However, in tandem with this there are also significant risks and challenges for faith and belief communities, such as the possible consequences of the direct election of Police and Crime Commissioners, or of the introduction of Universal Benefit.
Devon Faith and Belief Forum is committed to working through the Devon Strategic Partnership with a wide range of statutory and non-statutory organisations and by so doing to play its part in improving the quality of life of people in Devon. It also seeks to support similar processes in each district, as far as the local context and resources allow.
For more information about the Devon Strategic Partnership, see www.devonsp.org.uk. Ed Moffatt is the representative of the Devon Faith and Belief Forum on the Devon Strategic Partnership and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.