Outgoing Navca chair Schwaller expresses frustration over government's failure to act

Caroline Schwaller tells Third Sector the government appeared to listen but did not do much 'about what the sector says or knows'

Caroline Schwaller
Caroline Schwaller

The outgoing chair of the local infrastructure body Navca has hit out at local and national government for making the charity sector constantly reinvent its arguments in order to win support.

Speaking exclusively to Third Sector ahead of Navca’s annual general meeting yesterday, Caroline Schwaller said she had become "really frustrated by government in all of its guises" during her time as chair.

She accused government of "appearing to listen but not actually doing much about what the sector says and knows".

She added: "We have to keep going around in circles. How many times have we had to reinvent our arguments and solutions over the past 30 years? But they [government] still don’t change their ways and listen properly.

"Because people are always moving around, we’re having to start again and educate people about what we and the sector do, and remind people that it’s not about us as organisations but about what we’re there to do."

She said that changes in government structures and policies, combined with cuts to local authorities, had created a very difficult environment for Navca’s membership, which consists of local infrastructure charities.

Speaking at yesterday’s AGM, Navca’s new chair, John Tizard, said he intended to make the organisation more outspoken during his time leading the organisation. Schwaller told Third Sector that if she had one "mild regret" it was that she wasn’t more openly outspoken during her six years as chair.

But she added that she had been privately critical, plenty of other spokespeople out there had been outspoken and she didn’t really want "to just state the obvious".

She added that she also had to focus her efforts on restructuring the organisation when its income slumped after cuts in government funding. Navca’s income has fallen from about £2.6m five years ago to £200,000 in the latest financial year.

"It has been through a lot of major change and a lot of challenges," says Schwaller. "At times it has felt very wobbly about whether it has a role to play, but through careful examination of our values and reason for existing we came to the conclusion that we have a role to play that’s unlike anybody else’s. That is why we have made those brave changes, starting with a brand new staff team."

She added that she was proud its members had "come with us" through such uncertain times.

The Lord Mayor of Sheffield also spoke at yesterday’s AGM. Magid Magid (left), a 29-year-old former refugee from Somalia, talked about the importance of local charities and communities coming together. "I’m a big believer in grass-roots action because that’s where true change lies," he said.

Magid added that communities and charities could deliver "lasting change" by working together.

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