The Government has released a new Civil Society Strategy looking to change the organisational dynamic in the provision of public services.
Ministers want to unite charities with businesses and the public sector, increasing the role they play in providing social care — ranging from areas such as rough sleeping and homelessness to online safety. The Conservative Party states that it would like to ‘build a fairer society for all’ through public and private sector reforms, in an attempt to establish a stronger representative role for local communities and organisations.
The scheme makes up part of last year’s Government Industrial Strategy, a bid to prompt economic growth through bringing together both human and financial resources, local communities and service providers of all sectors.
‘It creates more opportunities for people to actively take part in community decisions, as well as highlighting ways to harness the power of digital and technology for public good’ (GOV.UK).
Ministers claim that a more collective attitude in the bringing together of resources will catalyse the search for a solution to society’s most complex challenges: ‘loneliness, rough sleeping, healthy ageing [and] online safety’.
As a result of cuts to funding, local councils have had to pass on the responsibilities of major service provision to voluntary organisations. The dilemma highlights the crux of austerity politics, which the voluntary sector — in ever-increasing demand — has criticised on the basis that the Government has failed to provide them with support during cuts.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, and the civil society minister, Tracey Crouch, write that UK businesses ‘are rediscovering the original purpose of the corporation: to deliver value to society, not just quarterly returns to shareholders’, alongside civil society and philanthropy’s positive growth in the UK today.
The Strategy is also described as a means to channel the rapidly growing tech industry to support public prosperity. For example, the strategy pledges to use digital technology to help charities — designed to aid healthy ageing and to enhance online safety programmes. Other Government proposals include the establishment of an independent organisation which will take £90 million from dormant bank accounts to encourage youth to seek employment.
Scepticism has pointed out the relative modesty of the financial proposals — that once £165m is divided between the organisational needs of each local council, this would not even cover the bare necessities. In reality, £6bn would be required to support equally each local authority in providing adequate services. Criticism also asks why the Conservatives are throwing money into new sub-national projects at a time when the Party is obviously struggling to cope on a central level. Although what the Government is proposing is a broad scheme designed to improve the management mechanisms affecting wider political issues — notably the NHS and the housing crisis — critics question whether this restructuring should really be a priority at this time.