The govt have released their Civil Society Strategy, setting out some of their thoughts on how they can strength organisations who ‘hold society together’. Download here. Read the summary or check out the clever graphics.
Apart from raising the continually fraught issue of what our sector calls itself by describing us as the Social Sector, is there anything of interest to the type of groups we work with?
First things first, loads has been written about this by folks far more knowledgeable then me so for a general overview try some of these
I also really like this graphic!
So, what is my take on this strategy? Firstly, most of civil society has never heard of it! A few of you attended the great workshop we ran with the Small Charity Coalition that fed into their response to this, but on the whole, I cannot imagine it even crossed your paths. That is unless you saw it in our newsletter or you follow our social media. I would guess this staggeringly poor knowledge of the strategy is repeated across the country.
In my nearly 30 years of working and volunteering in the sector we have been inflicted (and I choose my words carefully) with many of these strategies by different governments. Yet we are still in a place where society is becoming less equal, where small groups are struggling and closing, and where intolerance is the new normal. The bottom line is that banking crashes, BREXIT and pretty much everything else trumps Civil Society Strategies. Do not get me wrong there are many words and ideas in this strategy that I agree with and welcome. Not least of these are the nice words about local support organisations like CCVS (you can tell who did respond to the consultation!), I may be biased but anything that praises our work and recognises the need for the services we provide will have me agreeing with that bit.
If there is stuff I agree with in the strategy why you might ask are you detecting a note of unhappiness in this article. Well it is great to talk about sorting out commissioning so it better suits smaller organisations. That however, is not our version of small, it is the big-small organisations with incomes up to £1million. And even if it could help our small organisations (and it is grants we want not commissioning) then we come back to reality trumping ideology, or in this case council austerity trumping their desire to help and work with small organisations. If there is no money there will be no commissioning, or at best they will only be able to commission in big chunks as they have less capacity. We have seen this locally and I know it is worse in many areas – just ask the CVS in Northampton how much they get from their county council!
The strategy does not mention any new government money apart from using assets from dormant bank accounts. Again, I should be happy but there is no idea to use all of this to set up a sustainable income stream for the sector. Rather small amounts will go to vanity projects and short-term pieces of work. This is not what we need. We need funding to be able to provide our services year after year; to pay for the trips to the beach, to feed those left lonely, isolated or homeless by changes in legislation, to run activities for young people because the statutory youth services have closed, to look after parks that councils can no longer afford to maintain, to run libraries that would otherwise close, and to run all the small local projects that are the glue that binds our communities together, the lunch club, the toddle group, the football club, the heathy waking group etc.
My view is that the strategy says some, but not all, of the right things but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and as my tweet says “too often small groups and charities have gone hungry.”
Whilst it is nice that the government recognises the importance of our work, refreshing the compact will probably not make as much difference as legislation to outlaw commissioning for any amount below £2 million. Releasing a few million here and there from dormant assets will not have the same impact as releasing the full £200 billion (see here) in a way that builds a sustainable resource for small organisations. Looking at commissioning will not have as much impact as simply funding local government so that they can fund and therefore strengthen communities.
We will continue to work locally and nationally to ensure that this strategy has as big an impact as possible on the groups we work with and represent. But in the mean time it is business as usual for all of us. So why not check out our training and events or look at our funding portal, or check out what CCVS membership can do for you.
Oh and finally Social Sector – NOOOOOOOOO