The voluntary sector needs to produce data on its health and performance more quickly to demonstrate to government the effects of the recession, according to the author of a new research paper.
Rebecca Taylor, research fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, said there was a time lag of about two years in official voluntary sector data, most of which comes from the Charity Commission, and this made it difficult to provide timely evidence of the sector’s performance and the impact of spending cuts.
The report Taylor co-authored, published today, is called From Crisis to Mixed Picture to Phoney War: tracing third sector discourse in the 2008/9 recession. It says there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that charities and infrastructure bodies were worried about the effect of the economic downturn on the sector from summer 2008 to winter 2009, but there was a lack of data to support their concerns.
Taylor told Third Sector: "I would say – and I think infrastructure bodies would accept and support this – that there is a need to build capacity in the sector at all levels, not just in infrastructure bodies, but right down to the grass roots, where people understand what good quality impact measurement and data production looks like. That data was not available when the recession was happening and when we were doing the research."
The report says there was a close working relationship between the Office of the Third Sector, as the Office for Civil Society was then called, and infrastructure bodies, which resulted in the £42.5m action plan of February 2009, designed to help voluntary sector organisations deal with the recession – although this was less investment than some in the sector had called for.
But the report says the coalition government came in with a very different agenda of public sector cuts and reduced state intervention, which might have changed its relationship with the sector. It says that subsequent cuts to the Office for Civil Society and to infrastructure bodies could "reduce lines of communication between government and the sector".
Taylor told Third Sector that it was not clear whether this would result in more cuts to the sector than would otherwise have happened.
The Third Sector Research Centre is holding a series of offline and online dialogues about key issues affecting the sector, starting in September.