Service delivery has no effect on independence, says report

Voluntary and community groups do not think accepting government money to deliver statutory services endangers their independence, but organisations funded in other ways do feel more autonomous, according to new research.

The majority of the 135 voluntary groups studied or interviewed by researchers from the Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy and Practice on behalf of seven leading UK charitable foundations said they felt independent even if they were involved in service delivery. Many admitted, however, that government funding could constrain their activities, especially when it is highly target-driven. They also said the pursuit of funding can lead to mission-drift.

Sukhvinder Stubbs, chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, said: “Media discussions about service delivery have tended to polarise the debate. Our research shows that the reality is much more nuanced than that.”

The report, The Value and Independence of the Voluntary and Community Sector, also warns that the sector’s unique ability to deliver improved public services will only be realised if the Government provides long-term funding with minimal short-term numerical targets.

“The fruits of VCS groups’ work tend not to be immediately evident and cannot be judged according to narrow targets,” it says. “Commissioners need to allow for varied and occasionally unorthodox processes and assess the full breadth of outcomes.”

The report, which was launched last night at an event chaired by journalist and political commentator Polly Toynbee, also found that campaigning organisations tend to select their funding partners more carefully, and calls on foundations to make sure those that refuse on principle to accept government money remain well funded.

It says organisations funded by foundations, as well as those that raise a portion of their own income through ‘cash cow’ projects or membership fees, feel a greater sense of independence than those involved in service delivery.

Stubbs said: “Public policy has failed in this area because it has focused on getting people geared up for service delivery without thinking about the impact on organisations.” She said foundations should make sure the core mission of charities involved in service delivery remains well funded, and also called on them to support start-up community groups.

The seven foundations that commissioned the research are the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Northern Rock Foundation, the Carnegie UK Trust, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the City Parochial Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The report will be available on the Barrow Cadbury Trust's website from tomorrow. 

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