Headlines: February 22nd, 2002

The Government’s clearly signaled intention to make greater use of the voluntary sector as a partner in the delivery of public services is causing concern about the impact on the independence of the sector. The risk is that the dual role of charities and voluntary organisations in keeping a check on government whilst simultaneously co-operating with it to deliver services could be compromised. This is a key finding from a survey of 250 of the United Kingdom’s largest voluntary organisations by Ashridge, a leading business school, and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations.The Cabinet Office’s review of the voluntary sector is due in the Spring and it is widely expected that it will recommend a much wider role in public service delivery. The sector is already expanding with a total income of 15.6 billion pounds and a workforce of more than 563,000. The large organizations in the sector have seen a 77% real terms increase in their income over the period 1991-2001.

The growing involvement of the voluntary sector in public services is occurring across much of the world. In 2000, Ashridge conducted interviews with senior civil servants and government advisors across Europe . Factors driving the trend include financial pressures, the ageing population putting increasing pressure on the welfare state in providing pensions, healthcare and growing public hostility to increased direct taxation. In addition the third sector is seen as an alternative to greater involvement of the private sector in public service delivery.