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February 10, 2016

Too close for comfort?

Commenting on the unexpected decision of Community Development Foundation to shut up shop, Senscot raises a related question which merits more attention than it usually gets. And that concerns the extent to which the independence of our sector is compromised by the ‘contracts’ so many of us have with government. This issue applies at all levels. The community group and a service level agreement with a local authority or a national intermediary contracted to run a national programme.  How would we know if we’ve crossed that line and become merely an arm of Government? 

Civil Exchange

The think tank Civil Exchange is to extend its watch over the voluntary sector’s relationship with government over claims the coming 18 months will be critical in defining the sector’s future independence.

Civil Exchange plans to build on the work of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, a three year study that concluded that democracy and good government are damaged when the voice of third sector organisations are view as a threat.

The panel published its final report, An Independent Mission: the voluntary sector in 2015, in February this year.

Now Civil Exchange is set to produce two further annual assessments of the independence of the voluntary sector and its relationship with the state. One area it will be focusing on is devolution, and whether it can help to improve relationships between the third sector and the state.

Civil Exchange director Caroline Slocock said: “The next 18 months will be critical for the voluntary sector’s independence and we will be keeping a very close eye on developments and documenting them in two new reports.

“David Cameron has said he wants a smarter state, in which government and the voluntary sector work collaboratively to help those who are hardest to reach, but this would require a huge shift in culture and practice. We will be exploring whether recent negative trends can be reversed – which include contract terms and legislation that restrict the sector’s independent voice; reduced consultation; and weak protections and regulation to stop state interference. We will also look at whether devolution will make genuine collaboration easier.

“We’ll also be considering whether the voluntary sector and its regulators are doing all they can to maintain the sector’s independent mission. Some big charities have come under increasing fire in recent months, raising legitimate questions about whether they are genuinely following their mission and values in everything they do.”

Civil Exchange will deliver two annual reports in early 2016 and 2017, filling the gap between the Panel on Independenc and the expected launch of a new independent commission on the future of the voluntary sector in 2017.

As well as providing an annual assessment of the sector’s independence, the two reports will review developments in the wider relationship of the state and voluntary sector, including what has happened to the Big Society – which was included in the Conservative election manifesto – and will look at promising opportunities as well as threats. Before the election, Civil Exchange produced three annual Big Society Audits, the last one of which, Whose Society? The Final Big Society Audit, branded the initiative a failure.

Slocock concluded: “If you’ve got examples of what’s working or not working or just have views, do let us know, so we can build them into the reports.”