Reinvigorating the role of charities in public life: The House of Lords Select Committee report
The House of Lords Select Committee on Charities have produced an important report that serves as a huge opportunity to reinvigorate the role of the charitable sector in public life.
As Locality’s evidence to the Committee said, in increasingly uncertain times, the role that local community organisations play is more important than ever. They stimulate active citizenship and civic participation through volunteering and community organising, and act as a catalyst for community cohesion, bringing together diverse groups to work together for the local neighbourhood.
We are pleased that the report echoes this sentiment and recognises the special role small charities play in their communities, often in the face incredibly difficult circumstances.
In particular, we welcome the Committee’s recognition that the decline of grant funding has had a huge impact on the sustainability smaller charities, and that the rise of big public service contracts is crowding out local providers.
Our Keep it Local campaign says that public service commissioning should be ‘local by default’, to create more responsive services that reduce costs, invest in the local economy and build a stronger community. We are pleased to see the Committee recommend structured support for the development of local consortia, strengthening of social value considerations, and increase use of grants. These will all help level the playing field for smaller charities – and were all recommendations in our recent report How to Keep it Local: 5 step guide for councillors and commissioners.
The Committee is also right to note that public policy too often sees social investment as a panacea for the charitable sector. Social investment can play an important part in a diverse mix of funding and finance, but it should only be seen as a part of the solution. Some activities of many charities are not suitable for social investment, and not all services can be sensibly monetised, and we are pleased to see this reflected in the Commission’s recommendations.
In addition, we particularly welcome the Committee’s conclusion: “Central Government needs to understand better, and take account of, the implications of devolution for charities and civil society”. Devolution has to potential to inspire a renaissance in neighbourhood level governance and community empowerment. It also provides an opportunity to harness the capacity and expertise of local organisations in public service transformation, and create dynamic local economies. However, as we said in our evidence to the Committee drawing on our report with NAVCA, there is a real risk that devolution will be a technocratic exercise which simply shifts marginal responsibilities between different parts of the public sector, adding new layers of sub-regional governance which actually push influence, power and resources away from local people.
So we are pleased to see this reflected in the report’s conclusions. Locality is launching a new high-level Commission on Localism, chaired by Lord Kerslake, to set out clear plans for how a new localism agenda can truly put power closer to people. We look forward to working with the Committee and with Government to ensure that communities have a real say in the unfolding story of English devolution.