Editorial: Now the changes start to take effect

Not everybody likes the changes the coalition has introduced, but they are becoming a fact of life and people are having to adjust to them, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

With the onset of autumn and the new political season, there is the usual sense of change in the air. Two years ago, panic was impending over the spending cuts; last year, deep gloom was setting in over their effects; and this year it feels different again.

We're now halfway through this parliament and there is a sense that the changes the government wants for the voluntary sector are beginning to stick. Not everybody likes them, but they are becoming a fact of life and people are having to adjust to them.

For example, recent Cabinet Office figures detailed the decline in grant funding for the sector, which will only accelerate. As a result, the umbrellas are shrinking: Volunteering England and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations moved last week to the next stage of their merger. Acevo is moving in with them. Navca and Community Matters are also merging.

At the same time, two of the government's more favoured projects are moving forward. Big Society Capital, after a gestation longer than an elephant's, has announced £33m of investments in social finance projects; and contracts have been awarded for next year's much-expanded National Citizen Service, one of the Prime Minister's favoured projects.

Serco and other private providers are playing a larger part in the NCS, perhaps following the pattern set by the Work Programme of the voluntary sector playing second fiddle to private providers. Significant service delivery is not yet becoming easier for the sector in a world of payment by results.

Meanwhile, the political mood music is ominous for campaigning charities - witness the indignation among Conservative MPs about the UK child poverty campaign by Save the Children, a charity they like if it sticks to playing Lady Bountiful and feeding starving children in Africa.

Overall, we have the usual complex, mixed picture where perhaps the most reassuring fact is that the sector workforce is growing again. This loose and baggy monster is a resilient animal. So should we be downhearted? Perhaps, but only up to a point.

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