Headlines: July 26th, 2005

The body representing the voluntary groups is concerned that a new report sees their future as being involved solely in the delivery of public services. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations says the sector should beware of trying to take on the role of the public sector.NCVO’s concerns have been raised by a new report published jointly today by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the Social Market Foundation. It argues that greater third sector involvement in the delivery of public services will put the public and local communities in charge of those services.

ACEVO says the book will help move the debate forward by examining key areas where the voluntary sector can make a difference, including in employment, children’s services, independent living aids and correctional services.

NCVO, however, says public service delivery is only one of a number of different roles performed by an independent voluntary sector. It is concerned that too much focus on that aspect of voluntary organisations’ work will warp the public perception of the role of the sector and will overshadow, or even undermine, the other vital services that the sector provides, including campaigning and providing advocacy, advisory services and information.

Today’s report uses the example of the housing sector, but NCVO says this is dangerous because, while it is true that housing associations have provided almost all social housing in the last 15 years, this covers a period when provision of new social housing was low and supply is not meeting demand. It says the expansion is not universally popular and in many cases has been rejected by local communities.

NCVO believes the sector does play a significant role in shaping and delivering public services but organisations deliver those services for a variety of reasons. When deciding whether to expand that role, says the NCVO, a key factor in any organisation’s decision is whether or not it will help it to deliver its own objectives. Charities, NCVO believes, must get involved in providing public services only if that helps further their own mission.

Stuart Etherington, the NCVO Chief Executive said, “We must be wary of trying to take on the role of the public sector wholesale. There is a great risk that we will also take on the existing problems and find ourselves re-creating them, damaging the services we already provide and alienating our users. The very real danger in this approach is that we will lose the aspects of our organisations that provide additional benefit to the public services without bringing any real benefit to our organisations in return.”

He added that the provision of public services was and should continue to be only one aspect of the voluntary sector’s function in society and it should be pursued alongside other activities like advocacy and campaigning.