By Anne Lyall, CEO of Northumberland CVA
They say that if you are around long enough, then things come full circle, so it was no real surprise to read earlier this month, the launch of the Government’s highly anticipated Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone.
As a CVS we contributed to the consultation as part of a regional focus group, as well as commenting separately on the strategy - as did our national organisation, NAVCA.
It was encouraging to see that the strategy made explicit reference to the importance of local infrastructure. It also referenced a renewed commitment to the Compact and the principles of partnership working - all of which is extremely positive, but also rings those déjà vu bells!!
The strategy makes explicit reference to the important role of local infrastructure in strengthening civil society by supporting and representing VCSE groups. We were pleased to see the acknowledgement from Government that operational and strategic support (such as networking, information and advice, knowledge and skills and collaboration) is as vital to the survival of the VCS as it is to commercial businesses. It also sets out a clear commitment by Government to strengthen and increase work in partnership with the VCSE sector, and it’s very encouraging that now Government proposes to renew the principles of the VCSE Compact, which suggests commitment to increased joint-working with our sector on policy and programme design, something we have been pressing for through the Northumberland VCS Assembly for the last three years.
It is of no surprise, that declining resources have had a long-term, detrimental effect on infrastructure support. Whilst the Strategy does not make too many references to the financial landscape that local infrastructure has worked through in the last few years, it does express a commitment to developing a sector-led approach to further strengthening infrastructure support. However, the details on where practical and financial resources will come from are a big gap and there is no mention of any financial support from central government.
The strategy draws on the work we have been doing for many years in Northumberland around community-led initiatives, inclusive communities and place based social action, and it sets out an intention to give people more control over the future of the communities they live in.
Some of the key community-led 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. Have we been here before?.
- Plans to explore the potential of technology to address complex social issues such as rough sleeping, digital inclusion and healthy ageing are also mentioned. Let’s hope that the broadband coverage of Northumberland can cope with all this
There are a number of key initiatives designed to support young people and strengthen their engagement in civil society, which include;-
- 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.
There is a pledge from the government to make urgent improvements to public sector commissioning. There is no doubt there is a need for sustainable, accessible, and diversified funding sources for VCSE organisations but this needs to be in the form of grants as well as commissioned services
There is a lot of information setting out the Government’s intention to encourage collaborative commissioning: a framework for the future for joint working across sectors and with communities to improve the way that services are funded, created and delivered. Government announces it aims to do this by encouraging the national roll-out of Citizen Commissioners, where local people will be given support to make commissioning decisions on behalf of their communities. (How many people remember Participatory Budgeting from the good old LSP days?)
You can read and download the full Civil Society Strategy on the Government’s Gov.UK website. You can also find links to a series of NCVO blogs on the strategy, all written from different perspectives, at https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/