How do we create a more human, less bureaucratic, less centralised society in these Covid times and what part will your charity continue to play in realising it?
On 23 June our Prime Minister asked Danny Kruger MP to consider ways of sustaining the community spirit we saw during lockdown, into the recovery phase and beyond. Within a period of one month Mr Johnson asked his former political secretary to consult with civil society organisations, local authorities, colleagues in Parliament and across government to develop proposals to maximise the role of volunteers, community groups, faith groups, charities and social enterprises, and contribute actively to the government’s levelling up agenda.
Published on 24 September, Mr Kruger’s report “Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant” contains many good ideas and begins with a candid critique of his own government’s policies in the last decade: “The era just ending was governed by economic and social doctrines which have caused us to become the most regionally unequal country in the developed world, with a range of chronic social challenges.”
Mr Kruger identifies that we want (and need) a more plural, local, bottom-up system. His recommendations are grouped under “Power”, “People” and “Places” and include:
- New official measures to understand and track the economic and social contribution of civil society
- Comprehensive and comparable data from government and civil society about what funding goes where, and what outcomes are delivered
- A Community Power Act, creating the “Community Right to Serve” by which community groups can challenge for a role in the design and delivery of public services
- A new deal with faith communities, by which government supports a greater role for faith groups in meeting social challenges
These are commendable proposals but, at the moment, are just fine words and even if acted upon will take time to develop and come to fruition.
Action, as well as words?
As The Smiths (rather than Shoosmiths) once said, “Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before…” Mr Kruger acknowledges that the Big Society promised much but ultimately delivered little, largely because of the failure to establish a better narrative than the one the public seemed to hear, namely: “We’re cutting spending on public services, and you’re not doing enough in your neighbourhoods anyway, so from now on you’re on your own.” And he considers that his recommendations build on the government’s Civil Society Strategy of 2018, albeit the work to implement that strategy is ongoing.
Mr Kruger refers to the need to act now. The stakes couldn’t be higher: how are we to function as a civilised society and address the stark and ever-widening inequalities within it? As Mahatma Gandhi said, the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
These recommendations deserve immediate consideration but it unclear whether they will get it. Other than to announce the launch of a new procurement framework for public value commissioning, the Prime Minister has limited the government’s commitment to thanking Mr Kruger for his “comprehensive and hugely ambitious” report, telling him it is being considered by DCMS and that the Secretary of State will update Mr Kruger on the government’s work in this area in due course.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that things get done when people put their minds to them, not in due course. As we all know, winter is coming. Mr Kruger notes in his report that by next year up to four million people could be out of work,“…educational inequality is likely to have worsened during lockdown; people with mental ill health are probably suffering more; and the lockdown may have had a serious knock-on effect on physical health as people’s treatment for non-coronavirus conditions was delayed.”
It would be helpful if the government could commit to a timeframe within which it will consider the Kruger Report recommendations and, in the short term, identify which proposals could be implemented in the coming weeks and months to make a positive difference and which wouldn’t cost the earth or make the government uncomfortable about releasing control.
In the meantime, all other recommendations could be evaluated and if accepted, implemented, again within limited periods of time within which we all seem to be getting much more done in 2020?
For example why not look, right now, at service opportunities for young people, funded through the Kickstart programme, to work on a variety of social and environmental projects - or target immediate support on a much-loved sector which has suffered greatly in the last decade, by focussing on the modern local library, often community-managed, delivering business start-up support and digital inclusion for local communities?
After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And having asked a charities expert to report on what needs to be done and received his recommendations, isn’t now the time to consider and then act upon them?
The Secretary of State could also implement other proposed solutions which, to use a phrase borrowed by our Prime Minister in another context, are “oven-ready”, in order to increase funding of charities and to make it easier for them to operate in helping to realise this social covenant, in particular:
What are the responsibilities of charities under this social covenant?
At the same time, as Mr Kruger identifies, it’s not just about our government taking action. His “social covenant” is the “mutual commitment by citizens, civil society and the state, each to fulfil their discrete responsibilities and to work together for the common good of all. The responsibility of civil society under that covenant is to deliver high standards of professionalism, accountability, collaboration and transparency (beginning with a new determination to provide comprehensive, comprehensible and comparable data on their activities, finances and outcomes).”
High standards of accountability and transparency are key messages for the charity sector from its regulator. The Charity Commission has recently revamped its register of charities to make much more information available to the public about each charity on it. Those who are persistently late in filing their trustees’ annual report and accounts, who don’t appear to have key relevant policies in place, or whose trustees have been on the board since time immemorial may find they receive less support (and funding) than more compliant organisations.
In that context, to support the voluntary sector on Wednesday 7 October Shoosmiths will be running a charity governance webinar to suggest some simple strategies to help trustees run their charities as effectively as possible in these challenging times.
You can still register to attend: https://www.shoosmiths.co.uk/insights/webinars/charity-governance-webinar