Civil Society Strategy Response: a new name for the sector, but what else?

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4 min read

The Government’s response to the Civil Society Strategy consultation contains a number of promising commitments to the sector.

The first thing to note about the Government’s response to the Civil Society Strategy consultation, apart from the renaming of the sector containing charities and social enterprises as “the social sector”, is that it does contain a number of promising commitments to the sector. 

The executive summary of the response is a useful starting point for anyone interested to find out the key points. The entire response runs to one hundred and twenty three pages, and, to find the Government’s new commitments, it is necessary to read through a considerable amount of reporting of initiatives that are already underway. 

What commitments does the response contain?

The response looks at each of the five foundations of Civil Society in turn: People, Place, Social Sector, Private Sector and Public Sector. Commitments of interest to charities and social enterprises are scattered throughout the response.

Commitments particularly relevant to Charities and Social Enterprises

The Government will:

  • Work with partners including the Electoral Commission, and the Charity Commission “to explore what non-legislative steps could strengthen civil society’s confidence in speaking out”. 
  • Work with civil society stakeholders and the Charity Commission “to agree on joint action to open up trusteeship to people from different backgrounds”, and to strengthen the skills of leaders in the social sector, including looking at possible specific government interventions. 
  • Work with partners to explore how best to use digital technology to build a stronger and even more effective social sector. 
  • Create a regular forum for social enterprises, to allow them to “co-ordinate” their relations with the Government. 
  • Renew its commitment to the principles of the Compact, which sets out the foundations for a productive relationship between the Sector and the government in the context of commissioning. It was last renewed in December 2010. More information on the Compact is provided by Compact Voice
  • Strengthen and extend the Social Value Act, so that central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Act to goods and works and to “account for” the social value of new procurements, rather than just “consider” it as currently. The Government’s long term vision is for the principles of the Act to apply to the whole of government spending and decision-making, including goods and works, such as building projects, as well as services. 
  • Explore new models of funding, including through Grants 2.0 – the revival of grants funding.

Commitments particularly relevant to philanthropists and charitable trusts

The Government will:

  • Continue work with the Charity Commission and UK Community Foundations to release at least £20 million over the next two years from inactive charitable trusts to help community organisations. 
  • Explore how to encourage more “collective giving”, such as issue-based funding networks and place-focused funding models, and civic philanthropy programmes supported by city mayors.

Commitments relating to tax and regulation

The Government will:

  • Review Social Investment Tax Relief in 2019, with the response suggesting that reducing restrictions on the size and type of projects which can claim Social Investment Tax Relief may be on the cards to help SITR to play a bigger role in allowing social sector organisations to achieve financial resilience. 
  • Further develop and implement measures to strengthen safeguarding in charities. 
  • Work with the Charity Commission to explore the options to put it on a secure and sustainable financial footing, and to ensure it is adequately resourced to meet future challenges. 
  • Review the operation and impact of the Fundraising Regulator.

A notable omission from the response

Many were hoping that the Civil Society Strategy response might contain some more news about the £2 billion of unclaimed assets identified by the Dormant Assets Commission earlier this year, and earmarked for the sector. However, it looks as though the sector will have to wait a bit longer for further information about its proposed use. 

What now for the newly renamed social sector?

Broadly speaking, the Government’s response should be welcomed. While it contains a significant amount of old information, it does also contain some new and valuable commitments to the social sector. It includes some promising new thinking particularly on commissioning, the place of grants in funding, and place-based community participation and philanthropy. 

It is also good to see a focus on the need to help leaders in the social sector access support to improve their leadership skills, and make the most of their data and digital technology generally. 

It is disappointing, however, that the response contains further confirmation of the Government’s refusal to address issues around the Lobbying Act by legislative means, and that there is no mention of the £2 billion of unclaimed assets as previously identified by the Dormant Assets Commission. 

It is interesting to note as well that the initial intention was for this to be a long term strategy for the sector – for the next ten years and beyond, according to the initial announcement of the consultation. However, the furthest point in time that the Government’s response references is in fact 2020. 

Now that the Government has set out its stall - even if only for the near future - it will be for the sector to seek to hold the Government to its commitments. Given the Government’s present focus on Brexit, and the current uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit, this may be no easy task, however.

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