Editorial: Tories push for transformation

New initiatives for the sector aim to draw in investment from sources other than the government, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

It's been a bumper year for policies and programmes affecting the voluntary sector, with more promised between now and Christmas.

The stall set out by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, at the coming week's Conservative conference will be positively groaning. He admits himself in his interview that there have been so many initiatives that he needs to issue an open letter explaining the strategic framework.

But no one should make the mistake of thinking that the government is following Labour and making public investment in the sector the measure of success. Some programmes are small, some depend on match funding, some don't involve much public money. And the overall context is that the spending of the Office for Civil Society is due to shrink from £192m this year to £74m by 2014/15, which is a fall of 61 per cent.

What lies behind all the initiatives is an intention to change the working context for the sector and draw in investment from sources other than government, including the business and financial worlds and ordinary donors. The government's agenda is transformation, and much of the current OCS activity amounts to stimulation of change and sticking plaster to control the bleeding.

The biggest challenge is for those parts of the sector whose metier is providing public services. Localism, the reform of commissioning and payment by results will make their environment more difficult and competitive and make it harder for them to maintain services for vulnerable beneficiaries. Some fear that the private sector will gain most in the longer term.

But one thing the government must get right for the sake of the wider sector is the reshaping of support services through its £30m Transforming Local Infrastructure fund. Instead of responding to local demand, it will fund only moves to standardise infrastructure around upper-tier local authority areas. This will mean a big shake-up, with no guarantee that the result will improve matters at community level in the longer term.

Read interview with Nick Hurd

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