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Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Future lies in coalition for voluntary sector

Well, what an interesting week it was getting from the election to a new Government. It will be fascinating to see how it works out. Personally, I hope that the coalition might realise their declared goal of running for a full five years. This is not through any particular political allegiance, but rather because the consensus approach it will require should make the whole idea of politics and parliament more palatable to the people. Although some grass roots activists are finding hatchet burying a hard pill to swallow, many that I have discussed it with think the coalition is a step in the right direction. Cameron is talking of a ‘new politics’ and that is what the electorate seems to want – the hung result made it quite clear that the populace is weary of the old version!

For our part, we have Nick Hurd appointed, as expected, as the Minister for Civil Society – with responsibility for charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. We will never know whether he was fortunate that his Lim Dem counterpart, Jenny Willott, ruled herself out of consideration as a result of forthcoming maternity leave. 

I had the chance to hear Nick Hurd when he came to Birmingham on 15 October last year to outline what we could expect if the Conservatives got the keys to Number 10. And I must say, his political pedigree was clear to see and I was impressed by his grasp of the issues and the weight of his argument. So, too, it seems, was Alun Severn of BSSEC, who had reservations when I was chatting to him before the event got into gear, but sounded more upbeat when he wrote it up for the BSSEC Blog.

From this and other published observations in Charity Times and Civil Society we might be encouraged that the new Government will recognise:

  • The importance of our sector and its key role to play in creating a stronger society
  • The need for us to remain independent and be less ‘micro-managed’
  • Our ability to make things happen where the public sector could not.

We might also be encouraged by at least some of the policies just published by the Cabinet Office as forming part of the Big Society programme including:

  • Giving communities a greater say over their local planning system and saving local services, such as post offices and pubs.
  • Creating a new generation of community organisers that will be trained to support the establishment of neighbourhood groups and introducing measures to encourage giving and philanthropy.
  • Encouraging volunteering and involvement in social action, including launching a national ‘Big Society Day’ and making regular community involvement a key element of civil service staff appraisals.
  • Piloting a new National Citizen Service which aims to give 16 year-olds the chance to develop the skills needed to be active and responsible citizens, mix with people from different backgrounds, and start getting involved in their communities.
  • Supporting mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises and giving them greater involvement in the running of public services.
  • Funds from dormant bank accounts will be used to establish a Big Society Bank, which will provide new finance for neighbourhood groups, charities, social enterprises and other non-governmental bodies.

There are also strong hints though, that working in partnership will be key to our sector’s ability to respond to the opportunities that this government will present. As key as it will be to the success of the new government itself, the forming of ‘coalitions’ between organisations in our sector and also with those from outside of our sector is likely to be of even greater importance between now and the next election.

We, too, may need to think in terms of putting old differences aside to seek common ground and set out on new ventures together for the greater benefit of those we seek to serve.


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