Sir Stuart Etherington has published a report which includes an extensive range of recommendations for the future of civil society.
He says he hopes the recommendations in Voluntary Action: A Way Forward will provide some stimulus for policymakers and for the wider debate on the future of civil society being considered by Julia Unwin in her longer-term review, which will report in 2019.
All 18 recommendations, which are grouped into three main areas, are listed below.
Creating a more sustainable financial framework
- Government and the sector should consider the opportunities presented by dormant assets through a commission on shared assets. Its purpose would be to create endowed and matched funds that, together with additional tax reliefs, would create a funding engine locally and nationally for a revitalisation of associational behaviour.
- The sector should coordinate and fund a major, time-limited campaign, with clear objectives on reforming existing procurement and commission practice.
- A significant review of the social-investment industry is required, and an assessment on whether or not the role of Big Society Capital (BSC) needs to change.
- The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) should become an independent endowed foundation with a small strategic centre and significant regional autonomy.
- The sector should draw up an agreed concordat between national and local organisations, particularly in relation to commissioning and procurement practice.
- A small piece of work should be undertaken to establish the potential for ‘charity direct’ at a local level, which is where digital platforms enable individuals to donate directly to social projects or small business ventures with minimal intervention by intermediaries.
Changes to the institutional framework
- A review of the legal regulatory and tax framework should be established, with the aim of allowing organisations the flexibility to move across different non-profit classes depending on the level of public benefit offered and tax breaks required.
- A substantive review of public-sector commissioning practice should be instigated at a high level.
- Consideration needs to be given to the best way of investing, developing and empowering community leadership.
- The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the civil society sector should invest in a programme that relates the impact of the sector to agreed wellbeing indicators.
- A joint initiative should be instigated by the private sector, government and charitable foundations to invest in digital transformation, particularly among smaller organisations.
The importance of citizen participation
- Public-service institutions (notably local government and the health service) should consider what services can be provided by volunteers, how they can be recruited and retained, and how capacity can be created to engage people in civic life and policy advocacy.
- Government should consider further pilots of basic universal income (BUI) schemes, with the provision of a citizen’s dividend for social beneficial activity.
- A concentrated research effort is required to understand what has led to an increase in young people’s participation, and to review the policy implications of this rise.
- As part of the Full-Time Social Action Review, consideration needs to be given as to how the National Citizen Service (NSC) can be dovetailed into existing civil-society activity, providing a pathway to longer-term participation in communities. The review also needs to consider the role of schools in creating the value base upon which voluntary action can be developed.
- Government needs to renew its support for statutory time off for volunteering, and to consider time off for trustee duties.
- The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service needs to be fully funded and integrated into the honours system.
- Further consideration is required by the voluntary and business sector of the transition from work to retirement and the volunteering opportunities this presents.