Charities have their finger on the election pulse

Empowerment, citizenship and volunteering are all key themes of the general election campaign - but there has not yet been any serious discussion in the press.

Our guest writer is Gethyn Williams, director of workforce development at the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS)

Empowerment, citizenship and volunteering have all been key themes of the general election campaign. These are the bread and butter business of Britain’s voluntary and community sector (VCS) – but serious discussion on the role of charities in delivering them has not yet made it much beyond the trade press.

With thirteen years of record investment in the sector behind them and a sharp contracting of state spending ahead, here are just a few examples of how Britain’s charities are tackling the election narrative out of the media spotlight.

Bank reform (Urban Forum)

Urban Forum’s ‘Better Banking’ campaign has already drawn Vince Cable to address their national conference and attracted the support of more than 200 third sector organisations. By highlighting the £140 billion pumped into the nation’s banks – at an estimated long-term cost of the taxpayer of £50bn – the campaign centres around ideas for a greater public return on our investment.

The principle policy ideas include banks being required to reinvest 1 per cent of all profits for public benefit; responsible credit terms for lenders; better disclosure of information relating to public benefit; and a notably a community reinvestment act – providing fair access to basic banking facilities, loans and investment for all communities.

Being proactive not reactive (NAVCA)

Umbrella body the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) are encouraging their membership not to waste their energies debating the merits of the party’s key positions, but instead to take the debate directly to local politicians. Chief Executive Kevin Curley, one of the sector’s most prolific tweeters, says:

“Too much of the debate is about how third sector organisations are responding to the policies set out by political parties. We should reverse that and get them to talk about the policies we would like to see.

“And we should not restrict ourselves to policies directly affecting the third sector. Local voluntary organisations and community groups have important views on all major issues, including the economy, immigration, the health service and education.”

Playing fair on contracts (directory of social change)

‘Playing fair’ on the contracting out of public services is just one of the five thought-provoking ideas suggested by the directory of social change. They claim an astounding 46 per cent of statutory grant funders do not make the terms and conditions of their funding available until they have been awarded funding. The Labour manifesto would seem to agree, promising to do more to ‘level the playing field’ (page 53).

The DSC wishes not only improved transparency in the tendering process, but for charities to be further empowered by retaining the intellectual property rights of their work generated using state funds – thus supporting charities to be more entrepreneurial and less reliant on government. This kind of simple but practical development within the charity sector is long overdue.

• For an overview of the state of Britain’s ‘Third’ Sector, see the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual almanac – the 2010 edition published recently.

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