Commissioning is damaging the voluntary sector, says NCIA founder

Andy Benson of the National Coalition for Independent Action tells NCVO conference the commissioning of public services is threatening the independence of the sector

Andy Benson
Andy Benson
Increased commissioning by public bodies is damaging the voluntary sector, according to Andy Benson, founder of the National Coalition for Independent Action.

Benson told delegates at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ Research Conference in London yesterday that "commissioning is damaging to the principles and practices of voluntary action".

He said the process was threatening the independence of the sector because, even if organisations did not agree with government cuts or the commissioning of services, they were unlikely to speak out for fear of ruining their relationships with funders.

"The culture of fear among many voluntary organisations is now apparent and evident," he said.

Benson said he had come across "extraordinary incompetence" among commissioners and that commissioning did not allow for innovation and flexibility in delivering services.

Rachael McGill, coordinator at the NCIA, told the session that government spending cuts were being made for ideological rather than economic reasons.

"We believe the intention of all these policies is to shrink the welfare state and remove it as much as they can because it’s not something they believe in," she said.

According to McGill, the private sector would benefit most from the opening up of the state because the voluntary sector would not be able to compete.

Benson and McGill were presenting ideas from Voluntary Action Under Threat, a paper published by the NCIA earlier this year that criticises the government’s big society concept, saying it is not a coherent plan but a marketing term.

"It is a pity that those who know the world of voluntary and community action are not putting up more resistance," it says. "If anyone should be highlighting the ideologically noxious thinking behind the ‘big society’, it is the sector which could be at the centre of such a plan but which the government is in fact in the process of dismantling."

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