Outsourcing and Austerity : Independence under Threat

Thanks to our friends at the National Coalition for Independent Action for these important links to reports exploring and examining the impact of government policy upon the voluntary sector.

Outsourcing and Austerity : Civil Society and the Coalition Government

This is a wide-ranging conference report involving a plurality of voices from inside and outside the voluntary sector, sponsored by the TUC amongst others. Setting the questioning tone Ursula Murray of Birkbeck College raised a host of issues that impinge on all of us. But, as an example, she wondered,
“What we see in the legislation is actually a highly organised drive to create new markets in social services, health and education. A key role is to meet the need foreasy, short term profits for the corporate sector alongside the ideological desire fora smaller state sector. But was the insistent inclusion of the voluntary sector in thelegislation then merely to confuse and mislead the public? The voluntary sectorpress generally treats this raft of new legislation as an uncomplicated opportunity for the voluntary sector to potentially win a larger share of public service contracts,whilst fear of speaking out in a cuts environment, or ambitions among super charities, has largely silenced oppositional debate. Does this leave the voluntary sector as a rather gullible pawn in what is actually a much bigger process, a vigorous, wide ranging dismantling of the UK’s welfare state in the interests of big business?
As well as summaries of platform contributions the report contains feedback from a diversity of workshops, including ‘the future of community organising’ ; ‘social enterprise, friend or foe?’ ; and ‘where now for youth services?’ The latter draws in particular on the Newcastle situation.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the material to be found within its pages.
To add fuel to the conflagration of concern the second annual report of the Barings Independent Panel opens by declaring:
“In this, the second of our annual assessments, we conclude that the independence of Britain’s charities and voluntary sector is under threat and find that conditions have deteriorated over the last 12 months. With trust and engagement in national politics in decline, and as the Government cuts back on the state, this independent role is ever more important – and voluntary bodies enjoy high levels of public support because of it.
Yet the right of some voluntary organisations to campaign and criticise the Government is now coming under direct challenge, self-censorship is increasingly common and lack of financial support and effective safeguards for independence threaten the future of parts of the voluntary sector.
The very identity of the sector is in question, as it is increasingly being treated as interchangeable with the public and private sectors. At particular risk is the support received from the voluntary sector by the marginalised, the voiceless and the impoverished, who may have no other advocate.”
Andy Benson of the NCIA in welcoming the report as a breath of fresh air notes though that,
“the political context in which these pressures are being applied – the privatisation of public services and the voluntary sector role in this – is barely acknowledged. This leads the Panel to look outside of the sector to ask the state or the market to stop doing these nasty things to them – like gagging clauses, or sub-sub-sub contracting in a ‘supply chain’. Why wouldn’t you expect all that – goes with the turf? Also nothing on collective action and not much talk of practical resistance, but nonetheless definitely worth a read.”
He’s dead right. Both these reports ought to be required reading, especially for senior management across the ‘youth’ sector.

 Apologies for the cramped nature of this post. The WordPress dashboard is taking no notice of me. Will try to correct later!

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