Civil society strategy: Encouraging start, but implementation will be key

The government’s new civil society strategy has delivered a range of positive announcements, but implementation will be key, said the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities and volunteering.

Commenting, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:

The government’s aim to set out a clear, cross-cutting approach to how it works with the voluntary sector is one we warmly welcome. 

Today's strategy is an encouraging start, carrying a strong recognition of the role that civil society plays in tackling some of today’s greatest challenges, and of the need to ensure its involvement in developing new solutions.

The real test will be embedding the strategy’s aspirations across government, ensuring expert charities are truly involved in policy-making, and that procurement processes work as well for smaller charities as they do for big outsourcing companies.

The Compact

We’re pleased to see the government renewing its commitment to the principles of the Compact, which is something we have long been encouraging it to do.

This is an important symbolic gesture to show the government takes its relationship with charities seriously. In particular, I hope it will reinforce good practice in collaborative policy-making. We know that the best solutions to challenges come when the government works together with expert charities.

Grants

The recognition of grants as an effective funding mechanism is very welcome. We’ve seen that despite good intentions, the bureaucracy and complications involved in payment-by-results contracts often means the costs outweigh the benefits. In contrast, grants are a simple and efficient way to deliver the same outcome. The government now has sophisticated grants standards that can support good grant-making and I look forward to seeing the return of grants in public procurement.

Volunteering in public services

We are pleased to see a commitment to examine how to grow the role of volunteers in public services. Volunteers add immense value in our public services, whether in the NHS, police or elsewhere, and not only do volunteers enrich and improve these services, but while doing so they grow their skills and build the connections that help create stronger communities.

Dormant assets funding

It’s positive that the government continues to encourage communities to take control of the things that matter to them. But it takes more than good will to make this happen. Community groups need to be able to get the capital required to take on a village hall or local pub.

There is an estimated £2bn in dormant assets which the government can use to start a real revolution in community ownership and participation, but three years after they began work on this, progress seems limited and there is no mention at all of dormant assets in today’s strategy. We hope they will provide more detail on this area in the near future.

Notes

The Compact

The Compact (PDF, 290KB) is an agreement between the government and the voluntary sector. First created in 1998 and subsequently developed under the Blair and Brown governments, it was updated and endorsed by the Cameron government in December 2010, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg putting their names to it.

NCVO has been among organisations urging the current government to re-commit to the Compact’s principles, which commit the government to involving charities in policy-making and public service delivery.

Dormant accounts 

The strategy references funding from dormant accounts. These are separate to dormant assets. While money from dormant accounts has been put to work for years, the government is still deliberating how to unlock dormant assets, over two and a half years after launching a commission in December 2015:

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