Government should use voluntary bodies 'to reconnect with society'

In a new essay, Caroline Slocock, director of think tank Civil Exchange, says civil society has a deep well of knowledge

Caroline Slocock
Caroline Slocock

Voluntary organisations can help the government reconnect with society and make it more responsive, according to one of the authors of a collection of new essays on the voluntary sector published this week.

Caroline Slocock, director of the think tank Civil Exchange, says in the essay that civil society has a "deep well of knowledge and social capital on which central and local government can draw".

The essay is part of Civil Dialogue: ideas for better working between government and civil society, a collection of 20 from a group of third sector leaders. It is published by Civil Exchange and DHA, a communications agency working in the voluntary and public sectors.

Other authors include Sir Bert Massie, the former Commissioner for the Compact, Kevin Curley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, and Joyce Moseley, chief executive of the crime reduction charity Catch22

"Governments come and go while the voluntary sector persists," says Slocock. "The sector tends to take the longer view and it often has an understanding of problems gained through many years' experience."

She says that there are six "essential ingredients" for a productive relationship between government and voluntary sector organisations. They are:

- The voluntary sector should be seen as a key partner for government, "providing social wealth and wellbeing in a different but similar way that the private sector generates monetary wealth".

- The government should reward the generation of social wealth by the voluntary sector, rather than simply seeking efficiency.

- Voluntary sector knowledge should be "better used by government" – an essential ingredient in policymaking and the design, commissioning and delivery of public services.

- The government should respect voluntary sector independence and operational autonomy when it contracts with it, because flexibility allows it to achieve the results government wants.

- The voluntary sector’s "unique financial context" should be recognised in competitive tendering processes – for example, in its "ability to access working capital".

- Voluntary sector organisations should combine forces when working with government, merging, forming coalitions or setting up umbrella bodies as appropriate.

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