The government’s Civil Society Strategy, published today, will make a meaningful difference to charities and deprived communities, Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Civil Society, has said.
The 123-page strategy includes a range of measures that the government says "will build stronger communities by bringing together businesses, charities and the public sector".
The government has been criticised in recent years for its treatment of the charity sector and, in particular, for failing to support local organisations. But, speaking to Third Sector today, Crouch said that the new strategy would assist smaller organisations, especially those working in deprived areas.
"The strategy is a large document on purpose because it encompasses all the different aspects that contribute to civil society," she said. "Now if they work seamlessly and harmoniously together, you will have much better service provision and support in those deprived communities to ensure they work hand in glove with state providers."
The strategy includes a commitment to unlock £20m from dormant charitable trusts to help community organisations over the next two years and a promise to establish an independent organisation that will distribute £90m from dormant bank accounts to help disadvantaged young people find employment.
Other measures include the creation of an independent organisation that will use £55m from dormant bank accounts to tackle financial exclusion and the creation of democracy pilot scheme in six regions to help people have a more direct role in local decisions.
The government said it planned to use digital technology to improve the work of charities and the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. It also commits to reviving government grant-making, acknowledging that grants can "combine flexibility with the accountability and performance rigour of a contract".
A number of charity sector bodies have been lobbying the government to make more use of grants.
Crouch told Third Sector that the government was committed to making it easier for charities to access funding. "We had a lot of feedback through the stakeholder consultation about funding," she said. "We want to make it more accessible and streamlined and find new ways of funding. We have had a lot of polluter pay-type funding, such as Libor fines or Tampon Tax money. But we need to have funding streams that are sustainable in the long term."
The strategy also promises to create a new leadership group, formed of senior figures from the business, investment and social sectors, to help strengthen corporate responsibility. However, it falls short of the government’s 2015 election manifesto commitment to allow staff who work for larger companies or public bodies to take three days of paid volunteering leave a year.
Crouch said she did not feel that compelling the private sector to work with charities was the way forward. "I think we’re in a slightly different environment now to that in the past," she said. "I think businesses are actually recognising that their own customers and consumers are looking for socially responsible businesses. I think it has evolved quite far on the issue of business support for the charity sector. But it has to be meaningful support."
The strategy says that government is "determined" that charities should have the right to speak in public debates and help shape policy. Charities that receive taxpayers’ money should not be inhibited from expressing their opinions on policy and practice matters, it says.