Diary of a whinger

I feel as though I am becoming a whinger (maybe I always have been), but I seem to be able to find fault with everything at the moment.

I think my problem is that it is as if nothing was happening before May 2010 – or at least if it was it was rubbish. It seems that some have just discovered communities, volunteers and indeed charities as if they were not part of the fabric of society already and finally it seems that society was just simply broken prior to the coalition.

I was going to blog sooner about Eric Pickles’ promise to ensure that local authorities do not cut the voluntary and community sector disproportionately: incredibly he has gone as far to say that he will legislate to prevent it happening if there is evidence that it is. This was a populist message to an audience NCVO annual conference: and one I am afraid, whingeing again, that some of my colleagues lapped up.

National bodies need to take a step back for a second and think about life out in the regions (apologies, sub-national areas around England) and how this message might play. Mr Pickles is not the most popular character with many in local government (honestly, he isn’t) and also with many in the VCS. So going into town halls and using Mr Pickles’ statement as a way of creating effective dialogue is about as useful as a chocolate teapot – in fact it is worse in many areas, it is the proverbial red rag to a bull.

We conducted some research through our voluntary sector partners about how the cuts are being implemented locally and gathered a number of stories. Some are excellent: thus far Manchester PCT has had a good dialogue (interestingly our national partners just wrote to local authorities…) and Sefton Council appears to have good processes (of course good processes do not mean everybody likes the outcomes!), while in other areas the sector has encountered problems.

In the areas where the stories were not so good, people do not want to speak out to national government: the difficulties people expressed locally they felt they could overcome by banging the drum locally; they desperately did not want to give Mr Pickles and his friends anything more to beat up local government… interesting and important.

I honestly believe Mr Pickles’ announcement was a cynical attempt to drive a wedge between local government and the voluntary and community sector: get us fighting locally and take our eyes off bigger things – have we heard Andrew Lansley make similar commitments with the health service? No, because this is not government policy – it is a position taken for an audience.

Surely any budget setting process should focus on the impact of people and their communities, on ensuring those who need help and support do not lose it and ensuring we do not make society any more unfair. I cannot simply defend a service based on who delivers it – if that makes me a bad VCS champion I apologise – but I do believe an approach to the cuts that involves and engages communities and VCS groups can minimise the impact on communities and will, in all likelihood, not lead to disproportionate cuts to the sector – and who defines disproportionate anyway? Proportionality would suggest an element of salami slicing which will not deliver the cuts that are being required.

The VCS needs a mature relationship with local government and PCTs and other public sector partners. It is the only way. We will not create communities that are resilient, either geographic or of interest, unless we have strong and effective partnerships in place and understanding of the joint challenges ahead.


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13 years ago

Really enjoyed reading this article and agree wholeheartedly that the emphasis needs to be on developing a positive relationship between local government and the VCS. Its basically about good old fashioned relationships between people who care about the future of their place and the links between the public, commercial and social economy.

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