Gareth Jones: Government promises have us hoping for the future again

04 Dec 2017 Voices

In his leader for December's issue of Charity Finance, Gareth Jones reviews a stop-start year for government policy towards the sector.

Tracey Crouch, minister for sport and civil society

And so, as we approach the end of another year, it’s a good time to once again look back and reflect on a turbulent year in politics.

Back in February, I gamely welcomed positive noises coming from the government such as Theresa May’s vision for a “shared society”, which involved “creating an environment in which our charities and social enterprises can thrive”. There was also a new policy unit in Number Ten to improve the government’s relationship with charities.

Fast forward nine months, and where have we got to? The shared society was never mentioned again, while Charlotte Lawson stood down as head of the Number Ten policy unit after just eight months and doesn’t seem to have been replaced.

Meanwhile, we have not seen any major action to address problems in the public service contracting environment, which rewards scale at the expense of smaller charities and fails to cover the true cost of delivery.

And the vast majority of government spending still goes on social investment and youth volunteering, to the exclusion of other priorities. There is as yet no news on how between £1bn and £2bn from dormant assets will be spent.

But more recently, we have started to see some positive developments again. We have a new minister for civil society, Tracey Crouch, who at least on the surface appears to be speaking in warmer terms about the sector than her predecessor.

And we have the promise of a new government strategy for civil society to coordinate how public sector bodies interact with charities. Much has been made in the past about which department the Office for Civil Society should sit in, but ultimately the charity sector is so broad that it doesn’t have a natural fit anywhere. What’s needed is coordination across government, and this strategy seems a sensible way to do that.

Unfortunately, the end result of all this is that we are once again hopefully anticipating the future rather than basking in concrete progress. This leads to the question: was 2017 merely a false start, with good intentions derailed by an unexpected election result, or was it symptomatic of a government that is all talk and no action?

Your answer to that may depend on your outlook towards this government and perhaps towards life in general. But it does seem fair to give the new minister and her strategy a chance.

Gareth Jones is editor of Charity Finance

 

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