Charities react to the Civil Society Strategy: 'Good start, could do more'

09 Aug 2018 News

The government has today published its Civil Society Strategy outlining its ambitious plans for working in better in partnership with charities, social enterprises. 

Its ambitions have been broadly welcomed by the sector, but there are calls for the government to go further in some areas. 

NCVO: 'An encouraging start but government could do more' 

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said that the strategy was an "encouraging start" but said the government could do more to help community groups.  

"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 big outsourcing companies," he said.

Etherington said NCVO was pleased to see the government renew its commitment to the Compact, which NCVO has been calling for, as it is "an important symbolic gesture to show the government takes its relationship with charities seriously". 

He said NCVO was also pleased by the "recognition of grants as an effective funding mechanism" because "the bureaucracy and complications involved in payment-by-results contracts often means the costs outweigh the benefits" and the measures to increase volunteering in public services. 

But he also called on the government to release more funding from dormant assets to support charities. 

"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."

Locality: ‘Welcome statement of intent’ 

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said it was a “welcome statement of intent” but that “the ultimate challenge will be the impact the Civil Society Strategy has across government”.

He called for more funding and said the strategy is “unlikely to have the impact it deserves without further resources being made available.

"Community organisations are under huge strain, with demand for their services skyrocketing, and recent reports have shown local authorities moving from being on the brink to going under,” he said.

He also called on the government to release more dormant assets: “The big prize is the upwards of £2bn identified by the Dormant Assets Commission. These funds are already committed to being used for good causes. We believe this new funding could be channelled into strategic, long-term investment in civil society by endowing a new Community Ownership Fund. The Civil Society Strategy is silent on this, but it remains the biggest opportunity we currently have to truly and transformationally, unlock the power of community.” 

Charity Finance Group: ‘Disappointed it doesn’t go further’ 

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of CFG, said the government needs to go further. 

“There are some positives in the strategy," she said. "We’re pleased to see a renewed commitment in principle to Grants 2.0, though we need to see more detail. There’s clearly more support for small and local charities in the pipeline, and we will do all we can to ensure that finance training is a priority. We’re also pleased to see a greater emphasis on leadership, governance and digital skills.

“Despite the positives we are disappointed that it doesn’t go further. We need to see cross-government support for the role the sector plays and appropriate investment if this is to avoid being just more warm words,” she said. 

IoF: 'Positive ambitions but could do more' 

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Insitutue of Fundraising, said there were "positive ambitions", particularly around philanthropy and place-based giving, but that "the strategy could have gone further in clearly setting the government's role in promoting philanthropy and giving across all government departments". 

Acevo: 'Positive steps but could go further'

Joe Irvin, chair of Acevo, said he was pleased that the strategy touched on a number of "issues that are currently affecting charity leaders including the importance of voice, support for the digital code of practice, and a commitment to improving and enhancing social value" and that Acevo hopes to be involved in further discussions about strengthening leadership. 

"But there are areas in which we would like to have seen the strategy go further," he added, particularly around the Lobbying Act and, diversity and on dormant assets. 

He added that: "We look forward to continuing to work with government and our members to make sure this 'living and breathing' document helps us build a stronger civil society, one which supports and enables communities and creates lasting change."

Social Enterprise UK: ‘We must turn ambition into action’ 

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said that the strategy could be “a good springboard for social enterprise” but that “we must turn that ambition into action”.

He added: “We are pleased to see a new cross-governmental social enterprise forum announced in the strategy, but this must have teeth.” 

Holbrook warned of the “risk that the strategy may simply push the big issues facing society and the sector back into the long grass. We must make sure that this doesn’t become the reality.” 

ACF: 'Welcome change in mood music'

Carol Mack, chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations said: “There is much to welcome in this strategy, which rightly, and with significant cross-governmental backing, identifies the vital importance of a thriving, diverse voluntary sector, and explicitly recognises the invaluable contribution of charities & social enterprises to our communities and public life.

“ACF was particularly pleased to see the explicit acknowledgement of the role that civil society has in helping shape expertise-led policy and in speaking up on behalf of beneficiaries, the aspiration that the UK ‘become the global centre for philanthropy practice’ and the recognition that grants are a powerful and flexible tool in the funding toolbox.”  

She said “some questions remain” but “such questions should not obscure the very real and welcome change in mood music that the strategy represents”.

Charities Aid Foundation: ‘Vital to work together’ 

Sir John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: “The government’s recognition of the power of place and the potential for civic philanthropy is particularly encouraging, given that it is accompanied by £750,000 of newly-announced funding, and echoes a view long-held by CAF. In addition, the idea that the UK could become the global centre for philanthropy practice is one we fully support and believe is achievable, given the rich history and well developed public policy environment in this country.”

He added that: “As this strategy is progressively implemented, it is vital that civil society organisations and cross government departments work closely together. CAF looks forward to engaging on the detail and implementation of the strategy, to ensure the ambitions the government has set out reach their full potential.”

Bond: ‘Revise the Lobbying Act’ 

Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond, an umbrella body for international development NGOs, was pleased with the commitments to speaking out, but said the government needs to do more. 

“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, and this strategy does neither," she said. "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.”

Directory of Social Change: 'It's a start, but not enough' 

Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde, said: “It’s a start but not enough. There are some good elements. Encouraging civil society to speak up more, a revival of grant-making and making it work for small charities, support for people to give and place-based giving schemes, and giving citizens more voice in collaborative commissioning.”

But he said it was “overly focused on social investment” and that: “The biggest challenges that civil society is facing right now are a result of the austerity agenda. Government should listen to what charities have to say about that. Reform of the Lobbying Act is also desperately needed. 

“We still have a commissioning regime for public services which suffocates charities. Wider reform is still needed her as well. Providing the Charity Commission with an adequate budget settlement could go a long way to support the sector. We hear only that ‘options’ are being explored. Charging charities should not be one of them, we hope.” 

Lloyds Bank Foundation: ‘We need action on the ground’

Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales said: “The government has responded to our suggestion for ‘a living, breathing strategy’.

"We now need to see government driving action on the ground – providing the leadership, effort and commitment to deliver real change for charities. They must also make available the resources hard-pressed small and local charities on the frontline need, and ensure their voices are welcomed around the policymaking table.

"And we would challenge the government to go further in replacing contracts with grants and releasing more of the billions in dormant assets.”

Big Lottery Fund: ‘A moment to recalibrate relationships’

Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “We all have a part to play in enabling charities and community to thrive, creating a civil society which engages and empowers everyone. As we look towards the opportunities and challenges ahead, its publication is an important step forward. It is a moment to recalibrate the relationships between state, civil society and market, but also between those institutions and the people they serve.” 

UnLtd: ‘More to do to embed social value’ 

Mark Norbury, chief executive of UnLtd, said: “We welcome the strategy’s announcement that DCMS will account for social value when procuring major contracts, but we want to see the rest of Whitehall follow suit without delay. It is only right to expect the whole of Government to procure in line with its own legislation, which gained Royal Assent over six years ago. There’s much more to do to embed the Social Value Act and we look forward to working with our partners on the promised new forum for social enterprise to make this happen.

“We would have liked to see more support for initiatives which put social entrepreneurs, rather than investors and intermediaries, right at the heart of social investment. Again we will work with government and our partners to see if we can address this through our forum and exciting innovations we have in the pipeline.”

360 Giving: 'Welcome commitment to open data'

Rachel Rank, chief executive of 360Giving, which promotes open data for grants, said: “The government made good progress with this last year and we look forward to more data being released in the autumn. We also welcome the emphasis on grant funders committing to greater transparency.

“As more data is shared we will be able to get a better sense of who is being funded, how much and what for. This is important if we are to build a more accurate picture of the true size and scale of the third sector and to better identify funding needs.”

National Youth Agency: ‘Young people deserve access’

Leigh Middleton, chief executive of the NYA, said: “We are pleased to see youth work officially championed by the Government and recognising the transformational impact of youth services. Young people deserve access to effective and widely available youth services. We know local councils want to invest more in youth service but have been forced to de-prioritise youth services in the face of budget cuts in recent years - we believe this government review will recognise this and hand down the stronger appropriate guidance to address it.”

Generation Change: ‘Good ideas but lacks ambition’ 

David Reed, director of Generation Change, said: “The strategy has the right principles and many good ideas, but ultimately lacks ambition for young people and for socially responsible business - with a checklist of funding or policies that have no timeframe beyond 2020.

“Generation Change believes that the proposal for joint work between DCMS and the Department for Education will be the most groundbreaking part of this strategy - to ensure that social action is a rich part of our educational offer in the UK. There is a huge scope for progress in this area.”

Step Up To Serve: ‘We love the focus on young people’ 

Charlotte Hill, chief executive of Step Up To Serve, which coordinates the #iwill Campaign, said: “We love the focus on how young people should have a central role in shaping and improving our society, building on the collective work of the #iwill campaign. It’s great that this approach is extended to policy and programme development through a proposed Youth Steering Group model, which we encourage other government departments will follow. Working with organisations to encourage more young people to take up trustee positions will make the sector more robust by bringing new ideas, energy and enthusiasm to boards as well as building a pipeline for the future.”

NPC: 'The whole issue of public service markets should be reopened' 

Nathan Yeowell, head of policy at NPC, said: "It provides us with a decent starting point for the conversations that the government and civil society need to have if we are to have a better, healthier and more functional society in the future." 

He added that: "We agree with the government that there is scope to improve the use of the Social Value act. Charities and social sector organisations often generate more social value than their competitors but the problem is the act is not currently allowing commissioners to spend more to buy this additional impact. We want to examine this and think the whole issue of public service markets should be reopened, to allow more sustainable, impactful commissioning from civil society."