Umbrella bodies ‘have failed to resist government agenda for the sector’
Civil Society, by David Ainsworth
Umbrella bodies have lost independence and have not adequately opposed cuts to government spending or the privatisation of public services, according to a report published last week by the National Coalition for Independent Action.
The NCIA is an alliance of campaigners who lobby for independent community action. It is writing a number of reports examining the state of the voluntary sector, which it says has capitulated to a government agenda in which charities become government service delivery vehicles.
The latest report, written by two members, Lis Pritchard and Andy Benson, looks at the record of six umbrella bodies – NCVO, Acevo, Navca, Locality, Clinks and Homeless Link – and says they have become too close to the government to adequately look after the interests of the sector.
The report claims that the policies of the coalition government are intended “to degrade rights, entitlements and social protections, and to privatise public services that cannot be abolished”.
It says this means that charities must “remind themselves of their commitment to social justice and to position themselves so that they can once again be seen as champions of positive social, economic and environmental development”.
But it says there has been a failure among charities, “and the so-called ‘leadership’ organisations that purport to represent them, to resist these shackles on their freedom of thought and action”.
It says that while umbrella bodies have opposed the effect of cuts in public service funding on their own members, they have not taken an ideological stance on the effect of cuts on beneficiaries.
The report criticises the umbrella bodies for “taking government money to enable their members to participate in the privatisation of public services” which “supports that process and arguably further legitimises it”. It says that taking government money has removed the ability of charity umbrella bodies to effectively “speak truth to power”.
It also criticises NCVO and Acevo because they “have sought to justify high pay for charity CEOs”.
And it criticises Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, and Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, for accepting knighthoods.
“The evidence of recent years suggests that most of these bodies and certainly Acevo and NCVO have moved too far and are ignoring the reality of life for many of the members and their service users,” the report says.
“They have become seduced by access to power and the illusion of influence. There is an increasing culture in the voluntary sector of (usually male) CEOs developing empires and acquiring appointments and a high public profile for themselves at the expense of maintaining a real voice for those who are vulnerable and marginalised in our society.”