Civil Society Strategy – what charities need to know
The government recently published its Civil Society Strategy which sets out the long-term vision of government policy towards civil society and will shape the future relationship between charities and the government.
It contains several announcements designed to bring together businesses, charities and the public sector, including a revival of grants, renewed commitment to the principles of the Compact and improved commissioning.
Here are the most relevant and interesting parts of the strategy for charities.
Giving the social sector a voice
The strategy’s focus is to ensure charities and social enterprises are confident about their right to speak up and have a strong role in shaping policy. It aims to give the social sector a clearer route to talk to Government. The document says, “government should improve its engagement with civil society, consult charities, and community groups,” and that it is “determined that charities and social enterprises should be fully confident in their right to speak in public debates, and to have a strong campaigning and advocacy role.”
The government will work with the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission to send a strong message about charities’ right to campaign, and the strategy reiterates that the government will work with the Electoral Commission on fresh guidance for charities.
The strategy says that government is "determined" that charities should have the right to speak in public debates and help shape policy. It says charities that receive taxpayers’ money should not be inhibited from expressing their opinions on policy and practice matters.
It intends to set up a cross-government group to work with civil society to establish the principles of effective involvement in policy-making.
A revival of grant making
Also referred to as ‘Grants 2.0’, the government said its wants to “broaden the range of funding options for community initiatives” and acknowledges that grants can "combine flexibility with the accountability and performance rigour of a contract".
It “recommends that all public bodies, including local government, follow the Grants Functional Standard”.
The government will also support open data initiatives and hold a “ministerial event” to “collectively improve data infrastructure and open data publication to support civil society”.
There will be new guidance for commissioners on grant-making to small and local charities.
Recommitment to the Compact
The government will “renew its commitment to the principles of the Compact”, which was last published in 2010 and sets out a series of commitments to set the foundation for a productive relationship between the social sector and the government.
The government will review and encourage increased uptake of its “innovative partnership” model to “explore whether more can be done to encourage contracting authorities to work directly with partner”.
Tax and regulation
The government has said it will conduct a review of Social Investment Tax Relief in 2019. It will set up a regular forum for social enterprises to coordinate relations with the government and will “develop and implement measures to strengthen safeguarding”.
It will also examine the “operation and impact” of the Fundraising Regulator, and work with the Charity Commission to “to explore options for placing it on a secure and sustainable financial footing and ensuring it is adequately resourced to meet future challenges”.
The government plans to use digital technology to improve the work of charities, saying “to ensure our communities are connected, the government will implement measures from the Digital Economy Act. This will support civil society organisations and their beneficiaries in accessing high quality, fast, digital services.”
It will also form a Digital Skills Partnership to help civil society organisations to build their skills, boosting collaboration between the government, civil society, and business to tackle the digital skills gap.
Commenting on the strategy, Philip Griffiths, charity partner at Mitchell Charlesworth said:
Whilst the strategy provides a framework for charities moving forward, the proof is in the eating as to whether this provides any benefits to charities, particularly small local charities on a practical level.
To read the Civil Society Strategy in full please click here.
If you have any questions about the Civil Society Strategy, please contact our charities team.