Voluntary organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard by public sector decision-makers, according to a new report.
Who’s Listening to the Big Society?, published by the regional voluntary sector network South West Forum, found that half of voluntary sector infrastructure bodies think their organisation’s influence will decline over the next 12 months.
Only 13 per cent thought they would have more influence, while 27 per cent said their influence would stay the same.
One of the main areas of concern is changes to local strategic partnerships, which the report describes as the "main vehicle for dialogue between social purpose organisations and local public sector bodies".
Seventy-nine per cent of respondents said there were "plans to change" their local strategic partnerships.
"Most of these changes were to radically streamline and slim the partnership down, often at the expense of the social purpose sector involvement," the report says.
Isabel Livingstone, the author of the report, said: "We’ve found that support for voluntary organisations to engage with public sector decision-making is all but disappearing in some areas.
"They are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard and are often excluded from decision-making altogether.
"The government envisages a big society in which power is devolved to communities, but how can that happen when there is less and less opportunity for voluntary groups to be heard?"
Livingstone said she was particularly concerned that equalities groups were already being marginalised.
The Big Lottery Fund-supported research involved sending questionnaires in December last year to the main infrastructure organisations in each of the 15 upper-tier local authorities in the south-west of England.