Damian Brady, our Interim CEO, responds to the recent publishing of the Civil Society Strategy

22 August 2018

Last week saw the launch of the Government’s much heralded Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone. Tower Hamlets CVS contributed to the consultation as part of the London CVS group. We were pleased to see that the Strategy referenced a renewed commitment to a Compact and the principles of partnership working all of which is positive.

A precis of the key elements of the Civil Society Strategy is set out below: 

The strategy references to the important role of local infrastructure in strengthening civil society by supporting and representing VCSE groups.  We were pleased to see clear acknowledgement from the Government that operational and strategic support (such as networking, information and advice, knowledge and skills and collaboration) is critical to the existence and development of VCSE organisations. We were also pleased to see that the Strategy indicates the Government’s commitment  to strengthening its partnership with the VCSE sector and particularly the principles of the VCSE Compact.

Unfortunately, the strategy does not include any reference to the impact of declining resources or austerity on infrastructure organisations like Tower Hamlets CVS. The government does commit to engaging with the CVS world but provides no details on where the required money will come from.

The strategy sets out an intention to give people more control over the future of the communities they live in, with user-led, community-led services becoming more commonplace in the future.  It also outlines plans to reduce social, financial and digital exclusion. Some of the key community led and ideas for place-based social action outlined in the strategy include an intention to fund training for 3,500 Community Organisers by 2020 and a commitment to reducing financial exclusion, working with the Big Lottery Fund to use £55 million from dormant accounts to fund a new, independent organisation which will work with partners across the private and VCSE.

Key initiatives designed to support young people and strengthen their engagement in civil society included a plan for government to work with the Big Lottery Fund to use a £90m funding pot for the creation of a new body to provide support to young people with multiple barriers to employment.  Funding for the scheme will be sourced from dormant bank accounts. Alongside this, government pledges around 650,000 new opportunities for young people to get become active on local issues they care about (e.g. environmental action, education, health, loneliness, and sport).  This initiative is being created though the #iwill Fund, supported by the government and Big Lottery Fund alongside 20 new match-funding partners. 

The National CVS representative organisation NAVCA has previously set out the urgent need for improvements to public sector commissioning.  Government has pledged to address these in the strategy. NAVCA outlined the need for sustainable, accessible, and diversified funding sources for VCSE organisations and highlighted the essential role grant funding plays in our sector.  The Strategy outlines a planned revival of grant-making, through “Grants 2.0” and the introduction of a Grants Functional Standard to support this, which will set out minimum grant standards for general grants.  We welcome this development and the commitment to hold statutory organisations to account for poor practice in commissioning and contracting. We also welcome the Strategy commitment to explore the flexibilities in contract law (to reserve some competitions to other social purpose vehicles, and an intention to strengthen the Social Value Act).

The strategy also sets out Government’s intention to encourage collaborative commissioning. The Government sets out a framework for future joint working across sectors and with communities improve the way that services are funded, created and delivered. The mechanism for doing this is through the national roll-out of Citizen Commissioners, where local people will be given support to make commissioning decisions on behalf of their communities.

However, we note the glaring and concerning failure of any response to what Government will do to protect VCSE providers and local communities in the face of system failure (as seen recently in Northamptonshire and Surrey, where financial and management failures by the County Council have led to the immediate withdrawal of agreed contracts resulting and the consequent compromising of the viability of VCSE organisations.

You can read and download the full Civil Society Strategy on the Government’s Gov.UK website.