That stampeding noise you can hear is a general election descending upon us. The UK goes to the polls on 5 May.
Those who dislike politics have probably already got bored and then deeply annoyed. Those of us who think politics matters are confronting a different fate, as we risk drowning in a blizzard of ideas and pronouncements from anyone trying to influence the shape of party policy.
We have no axe to grind, we have no members to please. Our aim is simply to tell it like we find it and focus on our mission of making the charity sector more able to help the beneficiaries and causes for which it exists. That is exactly what we have done in our manifesto for the charity sector—A vision for change—which is published today.
In part, the manifesto is a chance to articulate all those things we care about, and to nudge the main players in the voluntary sector towards changes which will make our charities stronger and more effective. I describe some of these below.
But hopefully it’s about more than that. In recent years NPC has worked hard to establish itself as the think tank for the charity sector—close enough to charities and funders to understand and celebrate everything they are trying to achieve, but independent enough that we can hold their feet to the fire when it’s needed. I dare say that some charities and charitable funders feel that we’ve done quite enough of the latter, but our principle has always been ‘beneficiaries first’: how can charities make sure that they are providing effective, high-impact help for the people who rely on them?
In our manifesto, we approach this under four headings. How can civil society play a part in making a better society? How can we support innovation in the sector, and build public trust in it? And how can we ensure fair public services commissioning in the future? Our proposals are for a number of agencies as well as government. Being NPC, they are also a bit on the ‘techy’ side—and I make no apologies for that—but avoid great demands for more funding or special favours for the sector.
In particular, our manifesto says:
- The Government should use regulatory fines to fund the most effective local charities in more deprived communities and so support the redress of social harm.
- The BIG Lottery Fund should establish a £30m Innovation Fund, to enable charities to take on the risk that scaling-up and innovation entails.
- Big Society Capital should ensure it achieves the right balance between social and economic returns and is even stronger on transparency.
- The Charity Commission should require trustees to report on mission and impact and should sanction charities who repeatedly breach regulations.
- The Government should be bolder on data sharing and establish a data lab in every department.
- Public sector commissioning of charities should reach a minimum of 10% overall.
- The Government should work with organisations to strengthen evidence and measurement of social value.
It can be a complicated business to identify what works best and then advance proposals for how to make that a norm across the sector. Nonetheless, it can be done, and A vision for change provides a blueprint not just for charities themselves but for ministers, funders and regulators.