Less government involvement in sector might be a good thing, says NCVO public policy director

At the launch of the body's 2018 almanac, Karl Wilding says the government has a poor track record with investment in the sector

Karl Wilding
Karl Wilding

Charities might benefit from having less government involvement in the sector, according to Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Speaking at the launch event for the NCVO’s 2018 almanac, Wilding said that not having a budget attached to the civil society strategy might actually be a good thing, given the government’s poor track record with investment in the voluntary sector.

The government is in the final few weeks of consultation on its civil society strategy, for which it has already confirmed there will be no additional central government funding for the sector.

Wilding said: "A lot of people have been complaining about the fact that there is no big budget attached to the forthcoming strategy. I’m not sure that is a bad thing, actually.

"One of the things I take from the almanac data is that in those years where there was lots of government funding coming into the sector, it created a bigger sector but it didn’t create a stronger sector.

"I think we have to be quite careful what we wish for if we want this new civil society strategy to generate lots of government income for the sector."

Wilding said that, in some cases, it was good to have the government "get out of the way", and suggested that charities should ask the government to be more hands-off and "let organisations get on with what they’re good at".

The government also needed to "decide if it likes civil society or not", Wilding said, and whether it wanted to support a diverse charity sector with a variety of organisations that would support or oppose government policy depending on the aims of the charity.

"If you’re too directional and you want only one type of civil society, I don’t think that strategy is going to work," he said.

Wilding added that the charity sector needed to improve its diversity, and said the main consequence of reduced public confidence in the charity sector might be the loss of legacies in the long term, rather than losing donations in the short term.

Also speaking at the event, Sally Young, chief executive of Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service, said the biggest issue facing charities in her sector was increased demand for their services, despite funding from local government drying up.

She said local government funding in the north east of England had halved since 2010, but demand on charitable services had increased because people found it more difficult to access government and council support.

"The withdrawal of the state is having a big impact on a number of organisations," she said.

Young also highlighted a "squeezed middle" of medium-sized organisations that were losing out on funding and contracts to the largest charities but were unable to operate on the small budgets of many local charities.

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