Unite report urges fundamental rethink of the government's attitude to the sector

A strategy document from the union says funding for the sector should be restored, the lobbying act should be repealed and the Compact should be strengthened

Unite's strategy document
Unite's strategy document

The trade union Unite has called for a "fundamental rethink" by the new government of its attitude towards the voluntary sector and a reversal of funding cuts that have affected charities and community organisations over the past five years.

In a strategy document published today, Unite sets out its position on the voluntary sector and calls for a new approach to protecting and strengthening it.

It focuses on restoring funding for the sector and rebuilding the independence of not-for-profit organisations, which it says has been eroded in recent years.

"The increased restrictions placed by both local and national government on funding to the sector has meant an erosion of the independence and voice of many organisations," the report says. "A significant minority are now so deeply involved in delivering government services that they could be better described as quangos."

The report says this has also meant that many organisations have been pushed further away from their founding principles and have "lost the ability to deliver independent campaigns, to innovate and to challenge government".

It calls for the lobbying act to be repealed and for a strengthening of the Compact, the agreement between the government and the voluntary sector about how they should behave towards each other, because it is "clearly no longer working".

The report calls for the Charity Commission to be depoliticised because it says that "government meddling is discrediting the organisation", and recommends that all UK charity regulators take proportionate enforcement action, "distinguishing between genuine errors of judgement or expertise and deliberate attempts to defraud".

The union quotes figures published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 2012, when the umbrella body predicted that £3.3bn of public sector funding to the community and voluntary sector would be lost between 2010/11 and 2015/16. Unite’s report today calls for lost funding to be restored.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, writes in his foreword to the report: "The failed ideology of austerity has devastated the sector. Government cuts have had a disproportionate impact on not-for-profit organisations, with many facing collapse, causing a disastrous impact on communities.

"There needs to be an urgent review of the whole direction of the sector, challenging the market ideology and bringing the focus back to its proper roles of advocacy, innovation, building community engagement and deepening democracy."

Unite said it would be writing to voluntary sector organisations to try to create a new consensus on how to protect and strengthen the sector.

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