Although we have drawn attention over the years to the remarkable efforts of our friends at the National Coalition for Independent Action [NCIA] we have not done justice to their latest major undertaking, a sweeping and detailed Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services. At the launch of the Inquiry back in May 2013 the NCIA set out its stall.
That part of the voluntary sector that has the interest, experience and capacity to offer services to their local communities is now chiefly seen as a delivery vehicle for statutory services and policies and as a means, in other ways, to allow the state to withdraw from responsibility for impoverished and vulnerable people and communities. Begun under New Labour and continued with gusto by the present government, a new narrative has been built, in which the role of this part of the voluntary sector is shaped around the needs of the public services market (including the privatisation of public services) and subject to shifting fads for service and contract design. The capitulation by many in the voluntary sector, notably its national leadership bodies, to these government agendas has done much damage to the ability of voluntary organisations to work with and represent the interests of vulnerable, oppressed and marginalised communities and stand beside them in solidarity.
Meanwhile, the pressures on local voluntary groups providing services are immense and getting worse. Cuts in their funding, increasing need from desperate communities, competition from predatory corporate agencies, whether private or voluntary, commissioning and procurement systems which undermine independence, purpose and sustainability – the situation is bad and getting worse.
Local voluntary services groups are a valuable and an important part of the ecology of a healthy voluntary sector and, beyond that, a healthy civil society. We need to find ways of re-claiming the proper role – and the vitality – of this form of voluntary action. NCIA has therefore launched an Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services to bring together information and evidence about the issues involved and stimulate a debate about positive ways forward.
At this point in the process fifteen penetrating reports have been published. Whilst we hear much from our ‘youth sector’ leaders about ‘evidence-based, robust and rigorous’ research, which is evidently what they do and what we in our ignorance don’t do, we doubt whether they’ve read anything that contradicts their assumptions. Thus we are creating a Page, the Voluntary Sector, where will make available all the reports. Obviously no one is going to read them all at once! Hence over the coming weeks we will do separate posts drawing your attention to specific pieces. The first post will appear next week, featuring a report with the title, “The Devil that has come amongst us”! To whom or what might this refer?