Sector bodies respond to government consultation on infrastructure

NCVO, Acevo, Directory of Social Change and Navca give their views on Supporting a Stronger Civil Society

Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo
Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo

The Directory of Social Change has criticised a government consultation on infrastructure support in the sector as "too cursory".

Consultation on the Office of Civil Society's document, Supporting a Stronger Civil Society, closed on 6 January. The paper outlined the government's plans to end what it called "top-down initiatives" in voluntary sector infrastructure and posed 10 questions about what its approach should be.

In its response to the consultation, the DSC said it could not respond directly to the questions because the paper showed "an insufficient understanding both of the support needs of civil society and of recent and ongoing work undertaken to support those needs".

The response says the discussion was "simply too cursory; it does not delve into the available evidence in any depth, let alone offer a rigorous analysis or critique of it".

It says a key point missing from the debate about infrastructure was the fact that "government behaviour, regulation, legislation and policy often create support needs for civil society". Its recommendations on how government could better support sector organisations include the reform of government procedures.

Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo, said the document contained arguments Acevo had been exploring for a while, such as greater use of the private sector and brokering cross-sector relationships.

He said the chief executives body supported looking at the demand-led model the OCS was proposing. He told Third Sector a result of the current system was that it was quite likely that, in some cases, organisations doing the capacity building were providing the wrong kind of support for front-line organisations.

"More choice and more control to front-line organisations might result in resources going to more appropriate forms of capacity building," he said.

The NCVO said it generally supported the paper's approach in identifying some key issues for the future, including a greater emphasis on online support, the need for better links with businesses and the need to restructure and consolidate existing patterns of provision.

However, it noted that previous attempts to build the capacity of the sector, most notably the ChangeUp programme, focused primarily on specific themes. "In doing so, it missed the opportunity to move the sector's infrastructure toward a more sustainable, long-term footing," it says. "This must not happen again. What is needed is a coherent, shared strategy that addresses both the need for greater collaboration within the sector's infrastructure and for sustainable funding for that infrastructure."

The response from the local umbrella body Navca calls for additional funding to support local support organisations so that they do not have to close, only to be restarted at greater expense in the future.

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