Sarah Miller: A domestic DEC must be truly independent

The new body that might be set up in the wake of last year's disasters should not rely on any one particular organisation

Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller

If any "domestic Disasters Emergency Committee" isn’t truly independent, it will have failed those it was set up to help.

As we live through the first anniversaries of the Manchester bombing, the London terror attacks and the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, we remember seeing the amazing response of the voluntary sector and the immense generosity of the public.

The desire to reach out with help and support was overwhelming, but whether the response to such tragedies was marshalled most effectively is debatable. Hundreds of JustGiving fundraising pages appeared in the wake of Grenfell, with the fear that the donations might not have reached their intended recipients at all – or slowly, at best.

We needed a system that would channel the public’s generosity in a safer and more efficient way, and ensure that funds reached their beneficiaries quickly, fairly and to best effect.

I have believed for a long time that we need a domestic DEC for UK domestic emergencies, and I wrote about it last year after Grenfell. Although terror attacks have some specific features given that they are crimes, many of the lessons learned and the needs of the people affected are the same.

The UK voluntary sector is rich with expertise. Some charities are adept at rapid and large-scale deployment of volunteers and fundraising initiatives. Others are expert in helping individuals deal with the long-term consequences of traumatic events and continue to support those people for years. Some are able to provide support regardless of postcode, and others are embedded in specific communities with unmatchable local knowledge. Size alone is not the key factor and each has a vital part to play.

But sometimes these differences can be a cause of division rather than strength within the sector. Some charities and community organisations can be forgotten despite their valid contributions.

In the immediate aftermath of an event, roles and responsibilities can be unclear and confusing to beneficiaries and statutory agencies. We need to be able to harness the resources and knowledge of national players, but also accurately identify small local groups that need to be looped into response communications, decision-making and resources to ensure appropriate delivery.

The Charity Commission has done great work in convening meetings with relevant sector bodies to look at this, and the working proposal to establish a UK National Emergency Trust, as it is currently being called, sounds good on the whole, with the first principle that beneficiaries must come first. It is an opportunity to evaluate previous management of funds and be informed by the experiences, good and bad, of beneficiaries themselves.

But any new body set up to oversee this must be truly independent, constituted as a new charity, with no reliance on any one particular organisation.

A UKNET needs to create a level playing field. No one player can do everything, and no one player should hold too much influence. It is incumbent on the Charity Commission and the government not to accidentally overlook this important principle in their enthusiasm to get the project off the ground.

If the new body is not set up independently it will risk not delivering the best outcome for its beneficiaries, and will therefore have failed. Instead, we must put beneficiaries first, enable their voices to be heard and ensure that all members of the new body are able to play their part.

Sarah Miller is a charity communications consultant

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