The government has just closed consultation on its plan to help create a stronger civil society in the UK. It’s an opportunity for the social and charitable sector to make demands of legislators while looking at itself and being honest about what it can do better for the causes, people and places it serves.
We at New Philanthropy Capital have made 21recommendations on the civil society strategy across a wide range of topics, but there are a couple of key things the government could do to make a massive, positive impact on the sector.
First, reform the Charity Commission. It is an organisation full of dedicated people, but is straining under the weight of limited resources and an increasingly conflicted remit. It should be the regulator the sector needs, not its cheerleader. The sector should investigate whether the support it offers charities should be spun out into a new, independent organisation dedicated to sector-led improvement.
We also think what the commission regulates should change. It is too focused on financial stability and organisational survival at the expense of whether charities are having an impact for beneficiaries. We want to see a toughening up of annual impact reporting as part of the commission’s processes. Many charities already do this, but many don’t – if we can get them seriously thinking about their impact, the people they serve stand to benefit.
Second, start thinking about place. Austerity means the shape and scope of local public services need to be radically re-thought. Success will depend on a new partnership between the public, private and social sectors. We believe this is best done locally – so devolving budgets to those who know where to spend them is necessary for a more impactful civil society.
It’s not enough to change where services are commissioned – how they are commissioned must change too. Our research shows that 64% of charities involved in government contracting need to subsidise the contracts with income from other work. The Social Value Act should allow commissioners to accept more expensive bids from organisations offering added value over the long-term, but this is not happening. Government needs to strengthen the act to make it useful to commissioners who are concerned to demonstrate their decisions have created value for money.
To read the full Guardian Voluntary Sector Network Article click here.