Study of sector independence begins today

Initial report on 'continued concerns' asks for responses by 21 September

Nicholas Deakin is a member of the panel
Nicholas Deakin is a member of the panel

A five-year study into voluntary sector independence begins today with the publication of a report outlining some of the threats.

Voluntary Sector Independence, produced by the new Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, aims to stimulate debate with a consultation that lasts until 21 September.

In October, the panel, chaired by Dame Anne Owers, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, will make the first of its annual assessments on the state of voluntary sector independence.

The report says the panel will examine "continued concerns", which include the increased provision of public services by charities, cuts to funding, the growing use of contracts and the influence of private companies and grant-making foundations that support charities.

The panel will also look specifically at the Work Programme, the Department for Work and Pensions’ scheme that involves voluntary organisations as prime and sub-contractors.

In the report’s foreword, Owers says there is a risk of charities becoming "mere delivery agents, lacking independence of action or voice and being diverted from their purpose. We aim to shed light on how far there is a problem and what can be done about it," she says.

Owers, chair of Christian Aid and Clinks, the membership body for criminal justice voluntary organisations, told Third Sector that charities needed to be constantly vigilant about independence.

She said now was a good time to consider the issues because of the changing landscape in which charities operated.

The panel, which is being funded by the Baring Foundation and supported by think tank Civil Exchange, includes Nicholas Deakin, chair of the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector, which reported in 1996, Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, and Lord Hodgson, president of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and chair of the Big Society Deregulation Task Force.

Interested parties can submit their views to info@independencepanel.org.uk.

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Christian Aid

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