Bigger and stronger?  How will the third sector fare under the new Government?

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Bigger and stronger?  How will the third sector fare under the new Government?

So George Osborne’s July Budget has been and gone.  Did it tell us much about future funding of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector?

The answer is not really.  There were, of course, many announcements that will have an impact on VCSE organisations’ beneficiaries.  But for actual funding details, it’s probably going to be September’s spending review when we learn this kind of detail.

There is, however, plenty that we do know about the direction of the Government’s VCS policies.  First, at a ministerial level, there’s continuity, with the Coalition Minister, Rob Wilson, re-appointed to the role.  After the Brooks Newmark imbroglio last year, a bit of continuity is probably no bad thing.

Secondly, Rob Wilson gave a speech in June on the theme of building civil society together.  This sets out a four point plan for working with and funding VCS organisations.  Before we get onto that plan though, there’s an important announcement to make: the Big Society is dead.  Back in April, I was quizzically surprised by the resurgence of the Big Society in the Conservative manifesto.  But it was a dead cat bounce: in 2,000 plus words of the Rob Wilson speech, there is no mention of Big Society.

Instead we have a “bigger stronger society” – all lower case, no capitals.  But, like its predecessor, a bigger stronger society seems rich on rhetoric and short on cash…  The one bit of new funding is a Local Sustainability Fund for high-impact charities and social enterprises.  However, this has been long expected (it was first announced in early 2014) and, indeed, seems to have halved from £40m to £20m.

However, we have long known that the Government regards itself as an enabler rather than a funder of the VCSE, so perhaps this lack of cash is only to be expected.  Which brings us to the four point plan.  I think the easiest thing is just to quote directly from the speech:

“This is our plan:

“First, we need a confident and capable voluntary sector, armed with the skills it needs to meet the challenges ahead.

“Second, we want to see more social action and volunteering, with community participation embedded in our lives from school days onwards.

“Third, increased levels of giving, and more social investment, helping people who want to use their money to transform lives to connect to organisations who can put those funds to work.

“And fourth, stronger, more resilient, more capable and more empowered communities.”

 

All of these aims are, of course, laudable.  The tricky bit, equally obviously, is achieving them.  It will be, perhaps, most interesting to see if the Government can help effect a shift in the levels of volunteering in the UK.  Right near the end of the speech, the Nesta-led (and Cabinet Office-funded) Cities of Service initiative gets a name check for its work in seven UK local authorities.  This was a scheme started in New York in 2009 and now including 170 Mayors in cities with a combined population of over 50m.  If this initiative can achieve the level of change it’s had in the States, maybe we will start to see a step change in volunteering levels.

So as the new Government settles in, the direction of its policies for VCSEs is certainly becoming clearer.  We might have to wait until September, though, to see what — if any — cash there is to help VCSEs down this path.

 

For more information contact James Turner