Sector reaction: The civil society strategy “could have gone further”

The new civil society strategy is an encouraging start, but it “could have gone further” in clearly setting the government’s role in a number of charitable areas and releasing dormant assets, the sector has claimed.

The government today published the highly-anticipated civil society strategy, announcing a number of changes to "strengthen the organisations, which hold our society together”.

Some of the government’s main announcements include releasing £20m from dormant charitable assets and placing the funds into grassroots community organisations. The inactive funds will also be plugged into the improvement of the take-up of the Social Value Act.

However, many sector organisations have claimed the strategy is a good start, but does not address some of the key challenges facing the sector.

“We believe the strategy could have gone further in clearly setting the government’s role in promoting philanthropy and giving across all government departments and embedding an ambition to raise, celebrate, and promote charitable giving more widely,” Institute of Fundraising chief executive, Peter Lewis said .

Bond head of policy and campaigns, Claire Godfrey argued that the best way of giving civil society “the confidence to speak out”, would be to revise the Lobbying Act and “stop inserting anti-advocacy clauses into grant agreements”, yet it claims the strategy does neither.

“We welcome the offer to work with civil society, regulators and other government departments to determine how to support advocacy and campaigning in the UK, but this is not enough. Real confidence will now have to come from actions rather than words.

“We are also concerned about the blurring of lines between grants and contracts in Grants 2.0. Grants and commercial contracts are not the same types of funding and must stay distinct. Grants are not about profit, they are about the beneficial societal impact of funding, which makes them very different from contracts,” she said.

Despite this, NCVO chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington said today’s strategy is “an encouraging start, carrying a strong recognition of the role that civil society plays in tackling some of today’s greatest challenges, and of the need to ensure its involvement in developing new solutions”.

But Etherington said the “real test” will be embedding the strategy’s aspirations across government, ensuring “expert charities are truly involved in policy-making, and that procurement processes work as well for smaller charities as they do for outsourcing companies”.

The government announced it would renew its commitments to grants and the principles of the Compact, something the NCVO has long been campaigning for.

“This is an important symbolic gesture to show the government takes its relationship with charities seriously. In particular, I hope it will reinforce good practice in collaborative policy-making. We know that the best solutions to challenges come when the government works together with expert charities,” Etherington said.

However, he also urged the government to release more funding from inactive assets, after it announced it would be releasing £20m.

"It’s positive that the government continues to encourage communities to take control of the things that matter to them," he said.

"But it takes more than good will to make this happen. Community groups need to be able to get the capital required to take on a village hall or local pub.

"There is an estimated £2bn in dormant assets which the government can use to start a real revolution in community ownership and participation, but three years after they began work on this, progress seems limited and there is no mention at all of dormant assets in today’s strategy. We hope they will provide more detail on this area in the near future."

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