Voluntary sector ‘must play key devolution role’

12 Sep 16

A group of more than 30 voluntary sector leaders has set out a statement of principles for devolution across England that includes a call for greater involvement of voluntary organisations in local decision-making.

At a summit held in London on 7 September, the group set out steps that should be taken to put people at the heart of devolution in England.

Among the 16 points – covering voice and advocacy, financing devolution, and public service reform – was a call for an agreement between devolved authorities, elected officials and the voluntary sector around the design, commissioning, funding and delivery of public services.

Under the government’s devolution programme, combined authorities have reached a series of deals with Whitehall that will see them take on more powers over services including transport, planning and skills. These deals are in place in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool and the Tees Valley, although a deal for the North East Combined Authority was rejected by four of the seven councils involved last week.

At the Devolution and the Voluntary Sector Summit, leaders said devolved areas must be given the time and resources to create new democratic methods. The summit was convened by Charity Finance Group, Children England, Locality and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action.

These new methods should not be tied to pre-existing structures and processes. There also needed to be a commitment to local and specialist voluntary organisations to help engage people and communities in devolved decisions. Of particular focus in this endeavour should be disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups.

The group expressed the view that no financial settlement should be agreed with an area until there had been an opportunity to map and assess the local needs and resources (including voluntary and private sector assets). Ahead of the government’s implementation of full business rates localisation, the summit also called on ministers to develop a method of distributing resources post-devolution that ensured that inequalities were not locked in.

The statement called for devolution to be based on the principle of subsidiary, as well as highlighting the need for an agreement between devolved authorities, elected officials and the voluntary sector about the design, commissioning, funding and delivery of public services.

Services should be commissioned on the basis of long term social outcomes rather than short term financial pressures, the group stated. Meanwhile, central government must articulate at the beginning of the process how it is accountable for services that will be devolved.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of Charity Finance Group, said the vision for devolution could reset the high-profile devolution drive with full involvement of the voluntary sector as an active partner to support communities.

Locality chief executive Tony Armstrong added: “There is a clear opportunity for devolution to harness the capacity and ideas of local people and organisations to transform their communities. But there is a risk that the devolution agenda is missing this potential.

“The devolution summit has been an important moment for us to come together as a sector, and think about what good devolution looks like and the principles that are essential for making this happen.”

Representatives from the following organisations attended the summit:

ACEVO

Age UK

Association of Charitable Foundations Barca-Leeds

Charity Finance Group

Children England

Clinks

Colebridge Trust

Community First

Directory of Social Change

Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales Locality

Macc

Middlesbrough Voluntary Development Agency

NAVCA

NCVO

Small Charities Coalition

Social Adventures

South West Forum

Voice4Change

Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) Voluntary Action Worthing

VONNE

Voluntary Sector North West

Volunteer Centre North East Lincolnshire Women's Aid Federation

Women's Resource Centre

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