ACEVO urges Chancellor to work with Third Sector on Devolution, Public Services, Employment and Extremism in Pre-Budget Letter
Published: Wednesday 8 July 2015 - 13:45
ACEVO's pre-budget letter for the 2015 Emergency Budget
In the week before the 2015 summer budget, ACEVO's Sir Stephen Bubb wrote an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne outlining the key agendas on which the third sector and government should work over the course ot the next parliament. The letter is reproduced below.
Congratulations on your return as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We last wrote to you earlier this year, in advance of the General Election, when we made a case that was clear and unequivocal: a thriving economy, and a fair and free society, needs an independent and robust third sector.
In your party’s manifesto offer you restated the importance of social action and public service reform. These were welcome messages but now it is time to turn from message into matter: from the ideas that will help boost our country’s economic and social wellbeing, to the agendas that we can and should be working on together.
Over the course of the last parliament, the third sector demonstrated that as a partner of government it can achieve the outcomes no other partnership can achieve. From using social action to help under pressure accident and emergency units last winter, to the incredible voluntary effort that characterized the Olympic Games, you know by now how crucial we are. ACEVO represents the UK’s charity and social enterprise leaders; those who take the decisions that make those changes and those programmes happen. Together we have a clear message for you: our potential to tackle issues from economic localism to national security still remains untapped. There is more we can do together. And we write to you today in the spirit of partnership to invite you to help us help you unlock our potential.
In this letter we outline four key agendas on which we can and should be working together. Priorities that you have outlined, that we can help you deliver and that should form the substance of your budget if you are to see the broad strokes of your manifesto realized as transformative action on the ground.
- Delivering Devolution and City government that is good for citizens as well as for business. ACEVO members – 1500 charity and social enterprise leaders across the country – are enthused at the prospect of city deals and devolution away from Whitehall. We were further encouraged by the Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson’s idea that city deals should have ‘social deals’ that accompany them. This is a necessary corollary to a just and humane new economic settlement.
The devolution agenda, in its broad strokes, is to be welcomed. The detail of what is happening on the ground, however, is less unequivocally positive. There are, regrettably, in the pilot areas, examples of third sector organisations being left out of key discussions about the future of local services. Uncertainty and novelty are often breeding panic, rather than the kind of conversations we need about who is to deliver the services.
On the other side, we are seeing local charities actually being shut out because of devolution policies, as powers are moved out of local council control and up to larger, more distant unitary authorities. This is precisely the opposite of what devolution policy should be doing.
Over the years, central government has developed several mechanisms through its office for civil society, for engaging the voluntary sector in the work of public services. We now need that learning and knowledge to be funneled and refined in new city areas. We cannot wait for the public services ‘market’ to correct itself over time; too many will suffer in the meantime. It needs stewardship from government, central and devolved.
That’s why we ask that a small amount of funding be allocated from the cabinet office and DCLG to the areas where City Deals are under discussion help the voluntary sector play its proper role as these changes are driven and translate into revised public services. This Social Deal Fund should be used to capacity build organisations to work with new unitary authorities and to capacity build commissioners at the devolved level to better work with the third sector. We welcome further discussion on the structure of future Social Deal Funding.
- Full employment – making the Work Programme work better and a final battle with the scourge of endemic youth unemployment. We are fully behind the agenda to get this country to full employment. Good long, term jobs are the minimum our country should expect and every good, long term job created is a life changed.
However we must realise that as more jobs are created and unemployment falls, creating new jobs for those who are left will be harder and the suite of service required for those who are long-term unemployed or who have never had a job (for example if they are young ‘NEETs’) means that we have to think humanely about whether the systems we have do the job we want them to do.
The Work Programme was designed to help and on some measures it has. Certainly for the less vulnerable part of its cohort it has been relatively successful. However for the very hardest to reach the work programme has not worked. There has been ‘creaming’ of the easiest to reach claimants which means that the most ‘vulnerable’ are parked. There are clear problems with the structure of the system, which can be remedied by your colleagues at DWP. But there are also issues with the system as a whole, specifically those long-term job seekers.
We believe the time has come to break up the work programme into at least two parts, with the first part continuing broadly as is with tweaks from the learning of the last parliament. And more pertinently, with a specialist part almost entirely delivered by the voluntary sector to help those who are on long-term job-seekers allowance get back into work. This would best mobilise the ethos of the voluntary sector – which actively looks for the hardest to reach rather than parks them because they constitute overhead – and would help. A two part work programme would work better – for the sector, for taxpayers and most importantly, for those we are trying to help.
- Taking action on extremism. Terrorism and extremism are among the biggest challenges our nation faces. However, too often we fight terrorism with one hand tied behind our back. We rightly focus on the security measures but do little to engage with and best the forces that are breeding terror and disaffection in our own communities.
We recognize that the PREVENT agenda was designed to engage with communities, however all too often the prism through which those communities are engaged with is inadequate. ‘Community leaders’ are targeted who are said to be able to carry communities with them. Yet this is the politics of a bygone age. There is a strain of community leadership beyond the ‘biraderi politics’ of yore. It involves charities and social enterprises; a new generation of young people who want to get involved and do good. These are the ‘community leaders’ of the future who will once again give the concept the life and vibrancy it deserves.
We believe in the power of these progressive leaders, many of whom are members of the ACEVO family. Together we want to see progressive community leadership supported in all of our communities, across all the major faiths. We want to see banking restrictions lifted on charities working in war zones so that humanitarian aid can get to where it needs to go. We need to see the Treasury continuing their work with ACEVO and with Islamic charities in particular in order to overcome the barriers to obtaining and using bank accounts for charity work abroad.
As the Prime Minister discussed at PMQs on July 1st 2015, there is now a statutory duty on public bodies to tackle extremism. Schools, universities and other public bodies must play their part but they need support. The voluntary sector can help here. And so, in addition to the funding you have promised the charity commission to tackle fraud from charities operating abroad, we ask that you set aside funding to help multi-faith anti-extremist charities support public bodies in their discharging of their new duties. This is what we mean by fighting extremism with both hands.
- Bringing the economy to surplus and creating the infrastructure to make this happen. ACEVO welcomed the news earlier this year that the Office for Civil Society had gained backing from the Treasury for a new one year, £20 million Local Sustainability Fund programme, to help voluntary sector organisations that are struggling financially despite doing crucial community work. This is a crucial recognition of the role that a sustainable, developed third sector on a sound footing can play in building stronger communities that in turn help create a stronger economy. We note this fund was initially pitched at £40m; we hope that the Treasury will assess the programme and release the remainder in due course.
We were also pleased that the Department of Health allocated funding to help third sector organisations support under-pressure accident and emergency units. ACEVO brokered this scheme and we urge that this project be made permanent in the Department of Health and similar crisis committees be scaled across government to other departments such as DEFRA where the third sector plays a similarly crucial role in managing crises or alleviating pressures such as flooding. For if we are to remain resilient, we cannot wait for the next disaster; we must put in place the measures that can prevent it now. That is where the voluntary sector can help – and where the partnership of the voluntary sector and government can yield its rewards.
Each of these areas of partnership represents a standing offer from the voluntary sector to work with you to improve our country and deliver a shared agenda. We look forward to working with you over the next parliament and to hearing from you of how you will meet our offer - and craft the kind of settlement our country’s citizens need and deserve.
Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief Executive, ACEVO