Dear Baroness Barran,
We at NPC welcome your appointment to the role of Minister for Civil Society. You have had a long and impressive career in the social sector, including a key period at NPC, and we’re excited to have a minister who understands the incredible value the whole sector adds to life in the UK but also the problems that it faces in going about its daily work.
As you get to grips with your brief, which of course includes much more than just responsibility for civil society, we wanted to raise the three areas we think are vital to tackle, however long this parliament lasts. We urge you to argue for them at the highest levels in government.
The social sector and the replacement for the European social fund.
The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 election committed to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund to replace European Structural Funding which will be lost after Brexit. Boris Johnson has pledged £3.6bn to deprived towns: which may or may not be in addition to whatever the replacement for the EU funding is. There is clearly an understanding that programmes which sought to improve skills and infrastructure while reducing regional inequality have to be replaced. Many things about the design and funding level of these replacements are still unconfirmed.
What is clear to us, is that it is essential that the social sector is involved in decision making about the allocation of these funds and also in the delivery of them. It has the skills to replace the training and human capital elements of the old funds, while also offering more, including expertise in building stronger more cohesive communities. And it has a presence in ‘left behind’ places and towns already. This means it can deliver services with more legitimacy and feed the voice of communities back into the design of the programme, which will ultimately make the projects more effective. We are alarmed at the idea that the LEPs will be the decision-making bodies for this fund as charities have little voice on them.
Building a strong and effective civil society
People experiencing difficult times in their lives or grappling with structural problems often have no one to turn to but the social sector. They need it to be the best it can be. To understand if it is achieving the most it can for people, it has to try and understand, measure and improve its impact and it needs to be strong across the country not just in places that arguably need it less.
Obviously with the great diversity in size of organisations and different amount of resources that goes along with it, assessing impact needs to happen at different levels of sophistication in different organisations. A multimillion-pound charity should do more to measure and then improve its impact than a small local organisation, but the principle, that we can and should always do better for people is the same.
For that reason, we suggest adding a new line to charities annual reports to the Charity Commission, asking them how they measure their impact. We do not want to force charities to adopt any kind of specific impact measurement framework but we do want to prompt all of them to think about their impact, discuss it at trustee meetings and go some way towards explaining it. We think by gently pushing it up their agendas in this way we can make the whole social sector stronger and more effective for the people that need it.
We also urge you to look at the relative strength of civil society across geographies and see how government action, alongside the social sector and philanthropy, can do something about it. This is a something that we have been highlighting for a while now.
The breadth of the modern social sector
Whether you call it civil society or the social sector, the modern network of charities, funders, philanthropists, community groups and social businesses that exists in Britain today is bigger and more important than it has ever been. It also works across a wider range of areas than ever before. Many key issues are with the purview of the DCMS—the use of Social Impact bonds and social investment, the encouraging of volunteering and social action for instance. But some are only partly DCMS issues, like the Lobbying Act, and the Social Value Act—while much of what concerns different parts of the sector is the responsibility of multiple departments, from DHSC to MHCLG, BEIS and DWP.
For this reason, we ask you to be a powerful and an unrepentant advocate for the sector across the whole of government. The social sector is so deeply entwined into the biggest issues facing the country today it needs representation in the debates we hope this government will be having about how to fix them. With your appointment and with Danny Kruger, author of the Civil Society Strategy, going into Number 10, we are hoping the social sector becomes seen as a genuine partner in making the country a better place to live and healing the divisions exposed by Brexit.
Obviously, there is a huge amount of work to do but these are some ideas for where to get started. It’s a crucial time for the UK and for social sector so we look forward to working with you.
If you are interested in working with NPC, get in touch.