Umbrella bodies 'seduced by the illusion of power', National Coalition for Independent Action reports say

The NCIA criticises organisations such as Acevo, the NCVO and Navca for their public responses to government spending cuts; but the NCVO dismisses the reports as 'ideological ramblings'

National Coalition for Independent Action
National Coalition for Independent Action

Charity sector umbrella bodies are failing to represent the sector’s interests, "are ignoring the reality of life for many of their members" and have been seduced by the illusion of power, say two new reports by the National Coalition for Independent Action.

The campaigning group, which is not a charity, published two reports last week as part of an ongoing inquiry into the future of the voluntary sector. Both reports begin by setting out the NCIA’s position that funding charities with public money is "damaging to the principles and practice of independent voluntary action".

The first report, The Position and Role of National Infrastructure Bodies Concerning the Cuts to and Privatisation of Public Services, looks in particular at six organisations: the charity leaders group Acevo, the offenders charities umbrella body Clinks, the homelessness umbrella body Homeless Link, the community network Locality, the local infrastructure body Navca and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The report is critical of the public responses of these organisations to government spending cuts and policies, and their attitude to public service delivery.

"None of the organisations examined have said anything publicly about the issue of working with private sector organisations, whose treatment of vulnerable people, whose pay and conditions for carers and other front-line staff and whose rewards and pay-offs for senior staff (even when services have failed dramatically) are unacceptable," it says.

It also criticises Sir Stephen Bubb and Sir Stuart Etherington, the chief executives of Acevo and the NCVO respectively, for accepting knighthoods because this demonstrated their aspirations of "being or becoming part of the establishment", the report says.

The second report, Homes for Local Radical Action: the position and role of local umbrella groups, looks at the same issues at a local level.

It says that local infrastructure plays a vital role in the sector, but that this has changed in recent years. "It was not until the New Labour years that the idea of voluntary services as an arm's-length delivery vehicle for state policy and services took hold," according to the report.

The report says there have been "attempts by some local authorities and commissioners to safeguard a diverse and local sector", and that some local bodies have been making demands on Navca "to take a more visible stand against austerity and marketisation".

Neil Cleeveley, acting chief executive of Navca, said he saw increased marketisation as "retrograde" and austerity as damaging for the poorest in society.

He said: "We won’t always agree, but it is important that we have the debate. The reality is that there is no cross-sector agreement on involvement in public service delivery and Navca members need to balance competing demands and views – as the NCIA recognises."

A spokesman for the NCVO said: "Individual charities know best how to serve their mission and NCIA’s ideological ramblings are unlikely to weigh heavily on their minds in deciding whether to bid for public service contracts."

The other four organisations did not comment on the reports before publication of this article.

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