Etherington criticises ministers' 'blatant indifference' to the voluntary sector

The NCVO chief executive says the government's approach to consultation means that charity expertise has been ignored

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, has said the government’s approach to consultation has led to legitimate concerns from the voluntary sector being ignored.

Speaking at the NCVO’s Evolve conference in London yesterday, he criticised the "blatant indifference" shown by some ministers to charities’ concerns.

"I am especially concerned by the government’s approach to consultation – either rushing things through without engaging those that know the most, or the blatant indifference of some ministers to the very reasonable concerns of the sector," he said.

"Charities need every opportunity to comment when such significant changes are proposed, such as curtailing legal aid, equalities duties and judicial review."

He said the consultation on reforms to the judicial review process was a "particular low point".

"Not only was it only six weeks long but, more importantly, charities raised real concerns about the proposals," said Etherington. "Yet the secretary of state has dismissed their concerns. Open policy-making this is not."

He urged government departments to listen to the expertise of the voluntary sector, "not for the sake of process, but for the sake of better policy-making".

Etherington said that NCVO members had also expressed concerns that it was becoming harder for charities to hold public authorities to account.

"The localism agenda means that it is getting harder to understand the effect that national policies are having on the ground," he said. "And it’s getting harder to hold decision-makers to account for them."

He said that the NCVO would spend the coming year campaigning for the voluntary sector to take a "bigger and better role" in public service delivery.

"There are those who say that charities should avoid involvement in public services, that it is co-option by the state," Etherington said. "To my mind, it is right that voluntary organisations are running public services. And when I say running them, I mean running them – not just subcontracting to big commercial players."

He said that voluntary sector organisations were built around people with expertise who put the interests of their beneficiaries before all else.

"Who better to run a public service than this?" he said. "If you can best fulfil your mission by taking on the running of public services, then that is what you should do. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong – you’re not."

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