This week NPC made our submission to the civil society strategy consultation from DCMS. Lots of other social sector organisations have done the same and, if nothing else, the range of asks reflects the great diversity of our sector. While I’m sure you are chomping at the bit to read our full submission and its 21 detailed recommendations, I thought I’d summarise them here. Taken together they are a road-map to a world of better charities and better relationships with government, all with the goal of doing better for beneficiaries.
We’ve broken down our asks into five areas:
Governance regulation and improvement
I’ve got to preface this section by saying there is only so much the government can do to improve charities through its traditional levers, taxation and law. We have to be proactive and drive improvement in ourselves and others in our sector wherever we can. That said, let’s talk about the areas where government and the Charity Commission could help.
We don’t think charities are making enough use of data and part of the problem is that they don’t have access to the data that would really benefit them. We’re asking government to clarify the way its data can be used and make its own administrative data more user friendly, along the lines of the Justice Data Lab, but applied to areas like health, employment and education.
We also want the Charity Commission to share its data on what-charities-are-operating-where more accessibly, to help people think strategically about where they can have the most impact. In fact, we want the Charity Commission to think a lot more about impact and believe regulation must change to encourage a greater focus on the impact delivered. This role would stretch an under resourced Commission and so we recommend moving its improving and best practice functions into a new sector lead improvement and advice service.
Place, public services and commissioning
Because of austerity, the shape and scope of local public services is going to need to be radically re-thought. We think the only workable and human way to do that is through a partnership between, government, the private sector and the third sector organised around an individual place. To make this work we want to see more devolution of budgets to local areas.
We also know the government is aware of the unintended consequences of current procurement processes. According to our State of the Sector research 64% of charities are cross subsiding their government contacts with income from other areas and 57% have turned down contracts because the risks are too great. We want to see a strengthening of the Social Value Act to allow commissioners to pay charities and social organisations more in a reflection of the additional value they offer.
We want to see a better overall spread of civil society activity and engagement nationally, and policy should focus on putting resources into areas that need it. The government should target grants to support and enable local CVS-type bodies to adequately nurture, represent and champion their constituent social organisations, particularly in communities where social capital is less visible.
The Lobbying Act, ‘gagging clauses’ added to grants agreements and the EU referendum guidance are all having a clear, chilling effect on the sector. We urge the government to reconsider their position on these. We think that government should implement the main recommendations of Lord Hodgson’s 2016 review into the Lobbying Act, namely proposals to reduce the regulated period covered by the Act to four months, changes to the rules on joint campaigning, and reducing the scope of the Act to include only activity intended to influence how members of the public vote.
Funders, philanthropists and impact investment
If the culture of philanthropy in the UK were to change, resulting in more giving, we estimate that £4bn of additional charitable funds could be unlocked. A cultural shift like this is obviously difficult for a government to lead but there are some steps it could take to encourage it.
First, government should create a requirement for grant-making trusts to be more transparent and publish the reasoning behind their pay-out ratio. Being forced to do this would prompt conversations among trustees about whether they are paying out the right amount.
To lead the charge on transparency, government should publish where all of its grants go, via the 360 giving platform. It could also consider requiring any grant maker who wants tax breaks to do the same.
So that’s a quick(ish) summary of our submission. While we wait for the strategy to be released, why not discuss it with us on Twitter.