Tania Mason: We should applaud progressive large charities for their innovative work

19 Jul 2023 Voices

Tania Mason writes the sector should be recognising forward thinking large charities for their cutting-edge work.

Very large charities that derive most of their income from delivering public services on behalf of the state can find themselves the target of suspicion and criticism from their colleagues within the charity sector.

Their smaller counterparts sometimes view these behemoths as simply arms of government, barely worthy of the charity brand, whose vast economies of scale enable them to hoover up contracts with relative ease, undercutting and elbowing smaller, more specialist charities out of the way in the process.

Such misgivings have been felt beyond the sector, too; as long ago as 2005, the then-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith criticised big charities’ “cosy” relationship with government and warned that the increasing “Tescoisation” of charities – the concentration of income in the very richest organisations – stifles innovation. “As big charity gets ever closer to big government, it increasingly mirrors its thinking and behaviour,” he said.

Happily, the case studies in this edition’s cover theme would seem to suggest that Mr Duncan Smith’s fears were unfounded. Both Shaw Trust and Barnardo’s have entered into trusting, dynamic partnerships with local authorities and other public bodies in which they have reimagined how services are designed and delivered, creating new models of support that are flexible, responsive, costeffective, and involve service users every step of the way.

In Barnardo’s case, the success of its partnership with Leicestershire County Council has prompted it to allocate chunks of its own voluntary income to consider new ways that it can help other public agencies to devise and deliver effective place-based services – proactively approaching those agencies with new models, rather than simply responding to tenders.

The woman who has led this work – author of the article, Liz Perfect – asserts that it is only Barnardo’s size and scale that affords it the ability to innovate in this way. While this may be cold comfort to its smaller rivals which don’t boast the same levels of financial and human resources, at a time when economic conditions are screwing public spending ever tighter and a number of local authorities are facing deficits or worse, we should be applauding these progressive, forward thinking large charities for their cutting-edge work.

Charity Awards judges endorse the right to campaign

As always, our July issue carries the Charity Awards Event Report, with profiles of all the winners and why they won. This year’s Overall Winner, Freedom from Torture, may be seen by some as a controversial choice – not everybody in the audience joined the wide standing ovation that the charity received at the ceremony.

But our eminent panel of judges, all senior figures in the sector, discussed the decision at length and concluded in the end that they wanted to send a clear signal to the sector, and to the government. Not only do they support the objectives and tactics of Freedom from Torture’s campaign against the Rwanda deportation scheme – and particularly the involvement of torture survivors in the design and execution of it – they also defend to the hilt the democratic right to protest and charities’ right to challenge government policies that they believe to be monstrous or harmful.

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