Contracting environment has dulled the voice of charities, says CFG chair

Contracting environment has dulled the voice of charities, says CFG chair
Civil Society News, by Alice Sharman


The increase in charities taking on contracts to deliver public services has meant the sector’s voice has been “dulled”, the outgoing chair of the Charity Finance Group said this morning.  


Speaking at CFG’s annual conference he said that 30 years ago, when CFG was formed, the charity sector and charities were seen as a "force for good". He said that there was "something special about working in the sector in those days", and "there was a conviction that we could change the world for good and there was a confidence and a boldness in the way we went about our task". 


 He said charities "were not afraid to challenge the status quo and to speak truth to power". But "roll on 30 years", he said, "so much of this has been lost".


"Somewhere along the road we stopped being the voice that challenged the establishment and instead we became the establishment".


Theodoreson said that he believes this change started when "charities in general began to chase contracts to provide services previously provided by local authorities and statutory bodies".


"The mantra was that charities were well placed to share their expertise and could be more cost effective that statutory bodies". But, Theodoreson said, "to be honest I think we were fooling ourselves".


He said that the sector hadn’t reckoned with "the price that would be demanded of us for that increased activity. Increasingly charities were being squeezed into a sausage machine production line and bit by bit the freedom to operate as they saw best, especially as funding cuts started to bite."


He added that, in particular, the voice of beneficiaries has become lost in in the face of the louder voice of those who pay the bills.


Theodoreson said that he is not suggesting that charities should not take on contracts, nor that charities haven’t done remarkable work in delivering statutory services to beneficiaries.  


"What I am saying though, is that in pursuing growth and reach through contracts we have actually dulled our voice and have lost our distinct message".


He said that charities "no longer challenge the status quo and the public is consequently less clear about what we stand for". He said that this "should be a cause for concern for everyone who cares about the charity sector".


Theodoreson also said that CFG has been told by other umbrella bodies that the organisation should be "less strident".


He said that he is pleased that CFG has avoided the chase for statutory income, and that "as a consequence" this has guarded its independence. 


He said: "This means we don’t have to curry favour with government but can choose instead to speak out on issues that we believe are important to our members. We have been told by some umbrella bodies that we ought to be less strident – actually our executive and our trustees believe that we, and the sector in general, need to be more strident in the face of the attacks on the sector." 


Theodoreson said that, in particular, there is the need to challenge the increase of stealth taxes that the sector faces such as irrecoverable VAT, business rates, insurance premium tax and the apprenticeship levy.


He concluded by saying that if he had one wish for the next 30 years it would be "that we rekindle our passion for those that matter most in our endeavours, our beneficiaries, and that we work with them to give them a voice that commands attention from those in authority, no matter what constraints are placed upon us".


He also announced that CFG’s deputy chair, Nicki Deeson, would be taking over as chair of the organisation as Theodoreson comes to the end of its term this year. Deeson is international finance director at Amnesty International.