Groovy Times or the proof of the pudding…


… a particularly apt aphorism for the Government’s new Civil Society Strategy. That the government now has a strategy for working with our sector should be welcomed. As should its recognition of the importance of what is now being referred to as “civil society” or “the social sector”. The strategy is founded on “five foundations of social value: people, places, the social sector, the private sector and the public sector.”

Large civil society strategy bigger

Equally a number of its proposals are welcome: encouraging the take up of community rights; adherence to Compact principles; the understanding that the Sector not only has a right to campaign but that is an important function in “democratic engagement”; the strengthening of the Social Value Act; recognition that leadership skills in the Sector have been neglected and advocating for the wider use of grants. As an organisation that promotes social enterprise and runs a School for Social Entrepreneurs, we welcome the focus on the role that both could play to create a more inclusive economy.

Medium civil society strategy ah highlights

  • Another positive is that the needs and voices of young people are also singled out for some attention.
  • The better use of technology features throughout the strategy and whilst this makes sense, more than 2/3 charities don’t understand how digital technology can support their work, so there is work to do here.
  • Funding, always the sector’s own biggest issue, features with the wider use of grants advocated (despite the slightly baffling reference to outsourcing as “good value for money”) and the recognition that new forms of funding – trading & social investment to name a couple – need to be supported.

To achieve these ambitions though local statutory bodies (the strategy also advocates decentralisation and local accountability) will need to be engaged with its ideas. Community empowerment and collaborative commissioning will not happen at the command of national government. Several of the initiatives referred to have been in existence for years – community rights for about 7 years; the Social Value Act not much less. Neither has gained much traction in these parts. Additionally, for some Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs), the requirement to engage with all sectors may come as a culture shock. (Our case that “the social sector” ARE part of the local economy with employees, supply chains etc has fallen on deaf ears with 1 LEP)

Equally a number of national initiatives which will help to carry out parts of the strategy – Digital Skills Partnerships, the Inclusive Economy Partnership; Innovation in Democracy etc will also need strong local championing, and not just from the public & private sectors.

This strategy can form the framework for a changed, more positive relationship between “the social sector” and government. However, we would welcome an open & honest discussion to acknowledge & recognise that this is a sector under strain and frustrated by its marginalisation by recent governments (the “stick to the knitting” message) and indignant at policy & welfare practices that have taken such a toll on its beneficiaries. Such a discussion would recognise that “people are taking action” not just because of “ the resourcefulness of the British people” but because of the ever widening gaps in public services, especially for those that are most vulnerable.

Blog by Action Hampshire’s CEO, Sue Dovey