The Government published its Civil Society Strategy today after analysing over 600 hundred written and online responses and feedback from face to face events on its call for evidence in the Spring. You can view the page with the executive summary or full version here.
This strategy "Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone", is not the final word, but will help shape and set a direction for future policy on charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises for many years to come with the aim of strengthening and supporting civil society. The vision is a bold one and this document is just the start of a process for policy development and collaboration.
The strategy is built around the five foundations of social value: people, places, the social sector, the private sector and the public sector. The Government recognises that it cannot dictate to civil society what it should do, but it can provide a level of support and a promote a “co-creation” approach.
This is part one of a short series of blogs that look at particular aspects of the Strategy.
In our response we said that government should respect and value civil society by engaging and listening, and feeding back what is being done as a result. In addition the government should acknowledge more openly the important role charities play in increasing democratic engagement and civic participation. This includes building a trust in local knowledge and experience, and involve local people earlier and more often in decision-making.
Social value is very much about people and the positive impact that they can bring to a community. Indeed, social value is a theme that runs throughout the strategy from the definition of civil society through to a commitment to strengthen that Act so that there is a better understanding and emphasis on social value. Government commissioners will be required not just to consider social value but will have to account for it. This is a welcome step and should help commissioners focus on local social value and its benefits.
The strategy also recognises the role that civil society, through its people, plays in responding to major incidents and the Government will look at models that reduce the burden on community organisations of accessing funding and maximising the use of assets and local knowledge to respond to community issues and ambitions.
The Strategy understands that active and mobilised citizens who are able and willing to play a responsible role in their communities are critical to the vision . At the same time government and public sector agencies need to open up and involve people in the decisions that affect their lives and that of their communities. A term which is repeated throughout the section is “self-efficacy”, the confidence to bring about change in lives and communities. To help achieve this the Government want to help bridge the digital skills gap and support wider volunteering opportunities. At present there are too many real and perceived barriers to individuals become active citizens. These barriers can include red tape, rigid volunteering profiles, old fashioned paper forms and inflexible opportunities.
Community organising builds relationships and inspires local communities to deliver positive social and political change led by residents. The government will consider how best to support and encourage the sustainability and spread of community organising in the longer term. We know that where Community Organisers are at work, in such initiatives as the Community Action Network that is present in Southwark, people feel a stronger sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, they feel more valued, and they become more likely to team up and improve their area.
The Government is keen to promote collaborative working between people and statutory and non-statutory organisations to identify issues, and develop and deliver solutions together, so that it becomes more widespread. The Government will build up good practice by local authority commissioners working with service users on user-centred and community led service provision. The government will create a peer network to enable commissioners, voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations, and councillors to share information, learning, and good practice across the country to create a long-term culture change in local authorities. This approach is supported by the work being undertaken locally as part of the "Common Purpose Common Cause", voluntary and public sector strategy agreed in November 2016.
Another strong theme throughout the Strategy is the development and role of young people in building communities that can improve their life chances, fulfil their potential, and to support them to avoid negative pathways. As part of this the government will review the guidance which sets out the statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide appropriate local youth services. The hope is that the review will provide greater clarity of government’s expectations, including the value added by good youth work. In addition, systems will be established to ensure that young people both have their views heard and are able to play a role in delivery.
Care leavers face particular challenges and as a result government is launching the care leaver covenant, which provides a way for wider civil society to pledge concrete offers of support to care leavers – such as work experience, internships or mentoring support – that help them to make a smooth transition from care to independence.
The next part of the blog will focus on places.