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Panel calls on government to stop eroding the independence of the voluntary sector and rebuild trust

The voluntary sector is losing its ability to protect the most vulnerable in society as a result of government attacks on its campaigning activities, lack of consultation over policy changes, and funding arrangements that put the future of an independent sector at risk, according to a new report published today by the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector.

 

Independence Undervalued: the voluntary sector in 2014 calls on voluntary sector leaders to take a stand to preserve the sector’s independence, which it says is vital to a healthy and compassionate democracy and the reason why so many people lend their support to charities and trust their services.

 

The report documents numerous instances of a serious and growing threat from the government to Britain’s long tradition of independent voluntary action:

  • Growing criticism by some politicians, including the Secretary of State for Justice, of charities’ role as voices of communities – leading to voluntary organisations becoming afraid of losing government work, appearing too political or because of gagging clauses in state contracts.
  • New and proposed restrictions to the ability of voluntary organisations to challenge government decisions in the courts on behalf of vulnerable individuals.
  • Restrictions to campaigning put forward in the Lobbying Bill without consultation and, despite subsequent changes, with continuing concerns about their impact.
  • Cuts in government consultation periods, leaving voluntary organisations too little time to respond to important questions, despite assurances this would change.
  • Damage to support in communities due to loss of public funding for local specialist voluntary organisations as public service contracts concentrate on economies of scale rather than social return.
  • Many state-sponsored charities subject to government interference, for example in appointment of board members.
  • A weak Charity Commission ill-equipped to maintain public confidence that charities are pursuing an independent mission; and lack of government compliance with a document signed by David Cameron to protect the independence of the sector, the Compact.

 

The Panel calls on government to preserve the ability of the voluntary sector to challenge government decisions in the courts and for a ‘new settlement’ between the voluntary sector and key stakeholders, particularly the government, based on a shared understanding of how an independent voluntary sector can contribute to better communities and protection for the most vulnerable.

 

The report ‘Independence Undervalued: the voluntary sector in 2014’ can be read here