The Conservative led Coalition Government has set out its stall. Its agenda is about more than cutting the public deficit fast and furiously. It wants a smaller state and less collective support for communities.
Local government has been hit harder than most of the public. The third sector has also experienced massive cuts to its funding – grants and contracts – in the last few months. These cuts have often been greater than those imposed on directly managed public services without any rationale justification.
There is evidence that some local authorities and their public sector partners have singled out local infrastructure bodies for financial reductions at the very time when the need to grow and support the community sector is greater than ever.
That any local authority should be failing to support rather than seeking to enhance the capacity and strength of the local community and voluntary sector would be very short sighted. That a council with a progressive political leadership has done so should be inexplicable.
This is not to argue that the third sector should have special treatment or protection when cuts are applied. Expenditure decisions – whether for increases or decreases – should be taken on their relative impact on wider policy objectives and local communities.
The third sector and in particular the voluntary and community sector plays an important role in delivering public services but as importantly in developing community capacity, supporting communities and neighbourhoods to take charge. It represents and provides voice for communities of interest and geography.
At a time of austerity and relentless government pressures on local authorities and other public bodies there is a need to forge much stronger links between local authorities and the community and voluntary sector. Local government and the voluntary and community sector should be finding common cause to resist adverse central government policies and actions and to develop an alternative. This will require enhanced understanding and trust between the two sectors at national and local level.
It does help when the third sector and its national bodies ask government to direct local authorities on the latter’s spending decisions. Equally it is unhelpful for local authorities to cut support for the voluntary and community sector in order to protect their own internal interests.
Likewise there should be more common ground between the third sector and the public service trade unions. The former should not fall into the trap of arguing for more deregulation in areas such as TUPE and pension entitlements and the latter should stop being hostile to the sector and always support the public sector in preference to the third sector. Unions need to be attractive more third sector employees as members.
Whilst much of the third sector understandably wishes to protect its political independence it should build alliances with those with whom it has common cause.
Progressive local authorities and their leaders will wish to build relations with their local voluntary and community sector and the wider third sector. They should seek to develop local partnership agreements which could include
recognition and mutual respect of each partner to the other respect for the third sector’s role as voice, advocate and campaigner
- guarantees for consultation and engagement in policy, budget, and commissioning decisions
- commitments to support effective infrastructure organisations; and to invest in capacity building
- the provision of shared support services and use of premises
- community asset transfer and both sectors liaising on strategic asset planning
- cross-sector talent and skills development, with two way secondments and mentoring
There is desperate need for new policies which will address inequalities and social cohesion; strengthen communities and self-responsibility; determine the appropriate levels and nature of public expenditure and taxation; and rebuild the economy. The community, voluntary and third sectors, trade unions and progressive politicians have shared interest in working together on such agendas.
They have more in common than they have differences. So let’s all avoid creating artificial schisms and confronting each other. The threats and indeed the opportunities are too great for such diversions.
The responsibilities for a progressive future rest with progressive politicians, trade unions, progressive business people and the third sector. We all have a responsibility to contribute.
John Tizard is Director, Centre for Public Service Partnerships and Trustee board member, NAVCA.
- IPPR's Reg Platt on capturing the benefits of the Green Deal http://progloc/ 2011/08/07
- RT @ProgressOnline: Why I launched @ProgLoc by @AnnaTurley - to galvanise the troops and support the next generation http://bit.ly/opcZJt 2011/07/28