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Government publishes Civil Society Strategy

The government has published its Civil Society Strategy today, promising that it will “build stronger communities by bringing together businesses, charities and the public sector”.

Key announcements include plans to unlock £20m from dormant charitable accounts and distribute it to community trusts and commitments to support corporate social responsibility, improve the take-up of the Social Value Act, and renewed commitments to grants and the principles of the Compact.

Plans for a strategy were announced in November 2017 and consultation took place earlier this year.

Tracey Crouch, minister for sport and civil society, said: “Civil society is the bedrock of our communities. It is made up of the volunteers, youth workers, charities and innovative businesses that work to improve lives and make areas better for all.

“Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference.

“Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”

'There is still a lot to do'

Speaking to Civil Society News, Crouch said that “there’s a lot of stuff still to do”.

She said the document aims to reflect as many of the ideas submitted during the consultation process.

“I didn’t want to leave anything out,” she said, and that it “really does reflect the breadth and depth of the sector”.

She urged charities to “continue to engage” with policy developments.

Crouch said that the “sector faces enormous challenges” and that working in partnership “across central government, local government and private sector” is key.

She added that: “I have never seen civil society as a luxury partner, but as an essential partner that can deliver services with much more value than the state can provide.”

Danny Kruger, who was brought on as an expert adviser for the strategy posted a thread on Twitter today summarising the strategy.

He said it is intended to be a "comprehensive vision" for future working and strengthening society. He said it is "the start not end of a process and part of a conversation among equals".

Complements business strategy

The government said that this strategy will complement its business strategy.

Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, said: “Our plans stand side-by-side with the Industrial Strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making.

“These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.”

NCVO: 'An encouraging start but government could do more'

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said that the strategy was an "encouraging start" but said the government could do more to help community groups.

"The real test will be embedding the strategy’s aspirations across government, ensuring expert charities are truly involved in policy-making, and that procurement processes work as well for smaller charities as they do for big outsourcing companies," he said.

Etherington said NCVO was pleased to see the government renew its commitment to the Compact, which NCVO has been calling for, as it is "an important symbolic gesture to show the government takes its relationship with charities seriously".

NCVO was also pleased by the "recognition of grants as an effective funding mechanism" because "the bureaucracy and complications involved in payment-by-results contracts often means the costs outweigh the benefits" and the measures to increase volunteering in public services.

But he also called on the government to release more funding from dormant assets to support charities.

"It’s positive that the government continues to encourage communities to take control of the things that matter to them," he said. "But it takes more than good will to make this happen. Community groups need to be able to get the capital required to take on a village hall or local pub.

"There is an estimated £2bn in dormant assets which the government can use to start a real revolution in community ownership and participation, but three years after they began work on this, progress seems limited and there is no mention at all of dormant assets in today’s strategy. We hope they will provide more detail on this area in the near future."

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