Each week we will draw your attention to one of the informative and disturbing papers produced as a result of the NCIA’s Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services.
The Devil that has come amongst us by Andy Benson looks in detail at the procurement and commissioning regimes through which this progressive enslavement on voluntary groups has been achieved, and the ways this has diminished interest and capacity to take their mandate from users and communities and speak out against injustice.
To take but an excerpt,
Mission drift, ‘managerialism’ and loss of independence
Becoming committed to a future as public service contractor or sub-contractor has certain internal implications for VSGs in terms of purpose, management approaches and styles and levels of dependence or independence to determine their own future. The moves to a more ‘managerialist’ way of operating are not inevitable but are strongly encouraged, both by the way in which commissioning is undertaken and in the propaganda support to these models that has been offered by the VCS infrastructure agencies. These are some of the hallmarks of the changes that are reported in many VSGs, at national, regional and local levels:
• VSGs are pressured to adapt or abandon their own plans and perspectives to match those of the commissioning authorities, as a route to survival;
• Closely regulated and managed relationships of this sort saps the independence of these groups;
• The ‘managerialism’ demanded by this form of operating tends to create top management elites within VSGs, divorced from the experience and concerns of their own frontline staff, let alone their membership, users or wider communities; the cult of the Chief Executive and leadership in general is very well established;
• Significant resources are committed to obtaining quality assurance certificates and badges, many of which have the chief effect of restyling (often bureaucratising) methods of work and management practices. Many also do not have the chief effect intended, which is to assure the quality of work or service; on the contrary substituting standardisation for standards ;
• These pressures pull the whole agency into looking upwards towards the instructions of the commissioners, rather than looking outwards towards the needs and preferences of
its users or communities;
• As VSGs become bigger and especially as they operate as regional or national organisations, they tend to develop a corporate identity and momentum and decisions may be made at some distance from local service delivery and frontline staff. The shift undermines the avowed virtues and value of voluntary sector activity;
• All of these forces feed into a ‘tesco-isation’ of the sector – clone-like services being offered in standardised ways according to the ‘best practice’ norms of the time.