Big society has failed to fully engage the voluntary sector, Civil Exchange says

Caroline Slocock, director of the think thank, says charities will be crucial to bridging the 'big society gap'

Caroline Slocock
Caroline Slocock

The government’s big society initiative has failed to work closely enough with the voluntary sector, according to a new report.

A report by the think tank Civil Exchange says that far from being strengthened in the first two years of the big society, civil society organisations have been weakened by public sector cuts, particularly in deprived areas.

The government needs a shared "vision and strategy for delivery" with the voluntary sector, the report says, and should reform the tendering process for government contracts to remove the "implicit bias toward larger organisations, mainly in the private sector".

Caroline Slocock, lead author of the report and director of Civil Exchange, said: "It is absolutely critical that the government engages with the voluntary sector as a genuine partner. You can’t drive the big society from Whitehall without engaging the voluntary sector, which has deep local connections, particularly in deprived communities."

Civil Exchange collated research from other sources and concluded that people living in poor areas and ethnic minorities were less likely to feel part of a cohesive community.

Slocock said charities would be crucial to bridging what she called a "big society gap". "Voluntary organisations have the ability to build capacity in poorer areas and need greater targeted support to do this," she said.

This could mean new government contracts and grants, she said, such as another round of the Transition Fund, which helped charities that had lost significant levels of government funding.

The report also says that "despite the size, reach and potential power of the voluntary sector, the sector seems to lack commensurate influence with government", and suggests that the government increases its understanding of the sector through the interchange of staff, training and more joint initiatives.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said:" The report is right to focus on the need to build social capital in some communities . That is the whole focus of the Community Organisers we are training and our very targeted Community First grant programme. We are also working very hard to strengthen the resilience of charities in a very tough environment"

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