There is much to commend the Civil Society Strategy. For one it has a natty ‘down with the service design kids’ #civilsocietystrategy infographic diagram (see left).

The use of grants as a viable alternative to complex contracting arrangements; strengthening the role of the Social Value Act across government in the commissioning process; and the targeted use of dormant bank accounts funding to support financial inclusion and employment… all sensible in theory.

‘However’ (we came really close to using block capitals and underlining here!)

The strategy is full of compacts and covenants and leadership groups. More wishful words and chin stroking, nodding of heads than tangible deliverables. There’s also a liberal sprinkling of existing funding commitments and initiatives that have already been announced, not a new trick by any means, but it’s still irritating. A number of the initiatives also stray dangerously close to interfering with the role of local government – funding Community Organisers?! Our greatest ire, however, is directed at yet another government strategy setting out how they will establish ‘two new organisations’… to deliver financial inclusion and youth employment focused interventions. It shouldn’t need to be said, but establishing new organisations or structures rarely proves to be the answer to deep-seated social policy challenges.

We can plot with reasonable accuracy the organisational trajectory:

  1. Establish a new organisation to fanfair that is independent from government
  2. ‘NewOrg’ hires expensive people from a relatively closed group of industry insiders
  3. NewOrg is an immature commissioner creating poor value for money
  4. Independent audit demands more public scrutiny and accountability
  5. Change of governance is imposed to move the NewOrg into public control
  6. NewOrg is desolved and subsumed within a Whitehall department.

One only needs to reflect on where NCS is on this journey. The answer? Work with the market of existing providers (Money Advice Service anyone?); work with local government; use specialist fund managers like Rocket Science to administer funds at low cost and high impact; use existing Whitehall frameworks to speed up the commissioning process.

A new organisation should always be the last resort.

So, it’s yet another frustrating white paper. The greatest impact will be if the principles behind the civil society are slowly trickled down into the decision making of commissioners.