Earlier this summer the Prime Minister asked Danny Kruger – MP for Devizes in Wiltshire – to carry out a review of the charity and community sector which was submitted at the end of July. He does have some experience of working the charity sector, having co-founded the London-based youth crime prevention charity Only Connect in 2006 which was subsequently acquired by Catch22 and also founded the charity West London Zone which aims to provide support for young people at-risk.
Since July, we have gradually edged out of lockdown and into something approaching our pre-COVID lives towards the end of the summer, only to have more restrictive measures being introduced which could be in place until March 2021 at least.
The report has now been published and is titled Levelling up our Communities: Proposals for a New Social Covenant and can be read through this link.
The difficulty with any policy report or policy-making process is that by the time it has eventually been announced, it has already been overshadowed by ‘events’ with some of the content already appearing irrelevant or at best badly timed. Just hours after Kruger released his work, the Chancellor confirmed there would be no Autumn Budget as expected and has since made a number of other proposals to support the economy.
Regarding the “Levelling Up” policy details, there are some interesting ideas, including some very important elements which were captured through the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign. These include:
· A Community Recovery Fund, building on the £750m in government funding for charities announced in April, using the £500m+ National Fund as an endowment, and delivered by a consortium of foundations.
· A Levelling Up Communities Fund, endowed with the estimated £2bn in stranded financial assets such as stocks, bonds and insurance policies, to support long-term transformational projects in communities with community ownership at its core. This seems remarkably similar to the previous Community Wealth Fund.
Whatever their titles, these are imporatnt initiatives for the resilience and ability of smaller charities like InSpire to continue delivering vital services. But will the government take them up? The ambivalent political support for this paper so far does not inspire much confidence. In his response, the Prime Minister thanked Mr Kruger for his ‘comprehensive and hugely ambitious report’ and said a consultation would be arranged. That seems rather vague for next steps.
As with any report like this, there are some other items which raise red flags and warning signs as well as some significant omissions. The risk is that the more positive initiatives will be difficult and expensive to achieve, which means they may not happen. The more harmful ideas will be easier and not expensive for the government to introduce, yet still may become policy that could damage our sector and community organisations. The more essential gaping holes that need addressing were not properly considered in the first place.
For example, the document proposes that ‘organisations benefiting from public funding or tax relief should publish coherent and comparable data on their activities and outcomes’. But surely annual reports published by any charity, whether they are publicly-funded or not, already provide this. So then how should reporting be changed? And who then is responsible for any changes and compliance? And what form of tax-relief is possible? Although the “proportionate” word is used, anything that is centralised alongside government regulated formulas risks causing more problems than it solves.
In another section covering procurement, the report encourages a return to payment-by-results contracts and Social Impact Bonds. However, based on the sector’s own experience (including InSpire’s) the former is just fundamentally terrible for engaging the kind of community action and ownership expected and the latter are the most ridiculously over-hyped example of social investment and incredibly bureaucratic to set up.
And the maybe’s….
It is important to point out that although the report is called ‘Levelling Up’ it does not say much about equality, human rights, or communities who are often marginalised or neglected. How can they shape their own solutions? There is a short paragraph which says ‘Government needs to be very deliberate about ensuring that the perspective and experiences of BAME people are included in policy design and implementation’. This is correct but inequality goes well beyond this concept should be woven into the fabric of the whole report.
Although the Report does mention many new initiatives and citations to reference his ideas, many of these proposals are not really new and give that sense of policy deja-vu. Old ideas can be good ideas, but we have to ask why were they never implemented in the first place?
Whatever happened to the Civil Society Strategy published in 2018? Or the Conservative Party’s Voluntary Action in the 21st Century in 2009? Or the 2010 Conservative Party’s Big Society manifesto, or the 2015 one? Does anybody remember New Labour’s Cross-cutting Review of 2002? The list is endless – and sadly this report could end up in the long grass too.
Danny Kruger’s idea to tidy-up the government’s funding data has also been around for years, but there has never been the political will or financial commitment to make it happen. So many of the other proposals are also “maybe’s” like this. Not wrong in principle and potentially quite useful with some more development. But when faced with the way the current government operates alongside the current chaos and uncertainty, these recommendations and suggestions seem so far away in reality. Inevitably the small charities and their and communities will wonder where the financial political impetus will come from to really ‘Level Up’.
Written by – Nigel Scott Dickeson