Local Infrastructure and Civil Society

This week saw the launch of the Government’s highly anticipated Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone. Support Cambridgeshire contributed to the consultation in two ways; as part of a regional focus group and separately with our own comments.

Encouragingly the strategy made explicit reference to the importance of local infrastructure so we are naturally delighted. It also referenced a renewed commitment to Compact and the principles of partnership working all of which is positive.

Below is a selection of some of the Strategy’s key take-outs with relevance to local infrastructure.

Strengthening local infrastructure:

  • The strategy makes explicit reference to the important role of local infrastructure in strengthening civil society by supporting and representing VCSE groups.  We are pleased to see clear acknowledgement from Government that operational and strategic support (such as networking, information and advice, knowledge and skills and collaboration) is as vital to the survival of VCSE organisations as they are to commercial business. (Page 77).
  • We are also pleased to see that the Strategy sets out a clear commitment by Government to strengthen and increase work in partnership with the VCSE sector, and it’s very encouraging that now Government proposes to renew the principles of the VCSE Compact (Page 16) which suggests commitment to increased joint-working with our sector on policy and programme design.
  • Declining resources have had a long-term, detrimental effect on infrastructure support. Whilst the Strategy does not make overt reference to the financial landscape that local infrastructure has had to endure, it does express a commitment to developing a sector-led approach to further strengthening infrastructure support. (Page 77 – 78).  Interestingly, whilst government makes a clear commitment to engage with our sector, details on where practical and financial resources will come from are missing.

Community- led initiatives, inclusive communities and place based social action:

The strategy sets out an intention to give people more control over the future of the communities they live in, with user-led, community-led services becoming more commonplace in the future.  It also outlines plans to reduce social, financial and digital exclusion Some of the key community led and ideas for place-based social action outlined in the strategy include:

  • An intention to fund training for 3,500 Community Organisers by 2020 (Page 36) and a commitment to reducing financial exclusion, working with the Big Lottery Fund to use £55 million from dormant accounts to fund a new, independent organisation which will work with partners across the private and VCSE (Page 16).   Plans to explore he potential of technology to address complex social issues such as rough sleeping, digital inclusion and healthy ageing are also mentioned.

Supporting Young People:

Key initiatives designed to support young people and strengthen their engagement in civil society include:

  • A plan for government to work with the Big Lottery Fund to use a £90m funding pot for the creation of a new body to provide support to young people with multiple barriers to employment.  Funding for the scheme will be sourced from dormant bank accounts. Alongside this, government pledges around 650,000 new opportunities for young people to get become active on local issues they care about (e.g. environmental action, education, health, loneliness, and sport).  This initiative is being created though the #iwill Fund, supported by the government and Big Lottery Fund alongside 20 new match-funding partners.  (Page 43)

Funding, Commissioning & Contracts:

In our parent organisations response to the Strategy Consultation, NAVCA set out the urgent need for improvements to public sector commissioning.  Government has pledged to address these in the strategy:

  • In our submission to Government, we outlined the need for sustainable, accessible, and diversified funding sources for VCSE organisations and we highlighted the essential role of grant funding.  The Government outlines a planned revival of grant-making, through “Grants 2.0” and the introduction of the Grants Functional Standard to support this, which will set out minimum grant standards for general grants (Page 111 – 112).
  • Using the Crown Representative for the VCSE sector to run an awareness campaign to encourage use of Contracts Finder and Mystery Shopper services to improve engagement in the commissioning and co-design, and to hold statutory organisations to account for poor practice in commissioning and contracting. Government also proposes to explore the flexibilities in contract law (to reserve some competitions to other social purpose vehicles, and an intention to strengthen the Social Value Act is also included (Page 112 – 115)
  • The strategy sets out Government’s intention to encourage collaborative commissioning; a framework for future for joint working across sectors and with communities improve the way that services are funded, created and delivered. Government announces it aims to do this by encouraging the national roll-out of Citizen Commissioners, where local people will be given support to make commissioning decisions on behalf of their communities. It also briefly mentions plans to include civil society representation on the Cabinet Office’s Strategic Supplier Group for public sector commissioning, as well as plans to explore how to support social and community-led organisations to form mutuals to deliver public services.  (Page 105 – 107)
  • Notably, and worrying there is no detail in the strategy of what Government will do to protect VCSE providers and local communities in the face of system failure (as seen recently in Northamptonshire, where financial and management failures by the County Council have led to the immediate withdrawal of agreed contracts resulting in the loss of local infrastructure support for the VCSE sector and huge risk to the viability, the VCSE organisations, local communities and civil society at large).

You can read and download the full Civil Society Strategy on the Government’s Gov.UK website.

Support Cambridgeshire will be using basis of the report at the launch the new Commissioning Forum which aims to break down barriers between Commissioning Unit and VCSE.


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