Pressure group closes with no regrets and no apologies, says director Andy Benson

The National Coalition for Independent Action is to close after nearly ten years, having published about 60 papers on various issues

Andy Benson
Andy Benson

The announcement at the start of November that the campaigning group the National Coalition for Independent Action was to close after almost 10 years was accompanied by an open letter signed by more than 60 organisations thanking it for its contribution. Few of them were mainstream voluntary sector organisations, however.

The NCIA began in 2006 with an opening message that voluntary groups were in danger of losing their independence under a Labour government. It went on to campaign on other issues such as reform of public service delivery and the effects of austerity on communities.

It published about 60 papers on subjects such as the impact of commissioning on voluntary groups, developing a reputation for taking a critical approach: in its final paper it accused sector bodies such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Acevo of "shamefully" failing to oppose cuts to poorer communities.

Andy Benson, a director of the NCIA, says it closed for two reasons. First, its original message that voluntary groups were in danger of losing their independence was now accepted by many in the sector - the Baring Foundation set up a Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector that concluded its independence was indeed under threat. And, second, the NCIA had failed to mobilise wide-scale opposition to the changes.

Benson says: "We rang an alarm bell about the direction of travel that has now been heard. But when we first started we thought that more organisations would resist these changes - we haven't been successful in that."

But he makes no apology for the hard-line approach, saying he saw no value in using "weasel words".

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, which acts as secretariat to the independence panel, said it was grateful to the NCIA for its evidence.

The local infrastructure body Navca was among the sector bodies the NCIA criticised, but Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of Navca, nonetheless believes it made a positive contribution. He says: "NCIA certainly challenged our thinking, frequently making me question whether we'd got things right. Sometimes a bit too strident, but always open to a robust but civilised debate."

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