With all sectors under fire from the public spending cuts and with protestors on the march, cynics are rounding on the government’s big society and localism programmes, dismissing them as a cover for the creeping privatisation of services. In Croydon the voluntary sector was the first to come under attack and with the promised ‘shift to commissioning’ not yet fully underway, the emphasis remains on survival for organisations that have either been cut already or are yet to receive confirmation that their funding is secure.
In this climate, generating much enthusiasm for the big society is proving difficult with embattled public sector workers on the one side and over-burdened and underpaid voluntary sector staff on the other. Realising the energy and creativity needed to underpin public service transformation is being compromised by a growing alarm at the pace and management of change.
Why then would CVA choose in its new strategic plan to subscribe to the ideas and drivers behind the big society (or the good society, depending on your political persuasion)? The answer is simple. These ideas have formed the modern voluntary sector’s business case since its inception in the mid 1960s, around the same time as the new public health agenda took shape. This case is founded on local people coming together to set up services that respond more directly to their needs, involving them in both the delivery and management of the service, and casting them in the roles of social entrepreneur and community champion. Sound familiar?
Having been adopted by government the voluntary sector business case has been put under intense scrutiny, with early intervention and prevention now requiring a firm evidence base. The voluntary sector has no exclusive rights to innovation, user-led models or the effective involvement of volunteers, but it has a proven track record in these and other working practices that will be essential to public service transformations.
CVA’s 2011-14 strategic plan will soon be available. Keep watching this space.