The Five Minute Policy Manager – May 2014

In a month dominated by elections, here’s NCVO’s latest round-up of policy news for the voluntary sector.

NCVO published our 2015 election manifesto

Following extensive consultation with our members, we’ve been sharing our policy priorities with the main political parties this month. Our manifesto, A Bigger Difference, focuses on the huge contribution that voluntary organisations and volunteers are making in our communities – and what central government can do in 2015 and beyond to maximise this contribution. See Karl’s blog for a summary of the key points.

Immigration and community relations at the top of the political agenda

In the wake of the European election results, Conservative columnist Matthew Parris, wrote a timely and forceful piece in the Times calling on politicians not to pander to the electorate on immigration issues. He argues that immigration and EU membership “aren’t at the root of a sluggish economy, housing shortages, social breakdown and unemployment: they’re easy scapegoats for knottier problems.” Going further, he suggests that blaming poorer people from other countries is “how racism starts” and suggests politicians need to be braver in confronting these attitudes.

These concerns may have some grounds. The latest data from the British Social Attitudes survey, published today, indicates that 30% of the population would admit to being very or a little prejudiced against people of different racial backgrounds. These respondents are also most likely to want a reduction in immigration. (NB. The Guardian and BBC have highlighted this as a rising trend over the past decade, but other media outlets are interpreting the data differently.)

Meanwhile, new in-depth research with different ethnic minority communities was published earlier this month by Policy Exchange, in its Portrait of Modern Britain report. It includes many interesting findings – for example, that BME communities are more likely to consider themselves ‘British’, and that all except the Black Carribean community have higher levels of trust in politicians than the white population.

Still waiting for procurement reforms…

Having expected to see draft procurement regulations in the spring, we now understand these are likely to be published in June or July. These regulations will encompass major changes to procurement law – but it’s still unclear whether government will take advantage of some of the provisions set out by Europe and outlined in Paul’s blog earlier this year. NCVO will be working closely with ACEVO, NAVCA and other partners to ensure the government does not miss this opportunity to improve the commissioning landscape for voluntary organisations.

New cost-benefit guidance

The Treasury has endorsed new guidance for councils and local partnerships to take better account of the long-term benefits of re-organising public services. This has been developed as part of Manchester council’s community budgets pilot. For anyone involved in public sector contracts, this guidance will be well worth a look, as you may be able to draw on it – as well as the Cabinet Office’s unit costs database – to strengthen your hand in commissioning discussions in future.

How to drive voluntary sector productivity?

Dan Corry, Chief Exec, NPC

Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, gave a lecture at the RSA on voluntary sector productivity. Some of his key arguments are controversial (the sector still doesn’t spend enough time assessing its own effectiveness; greater benchmarking is needed), but the analysis certainly warrants further debate. I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Improved local spending data

One of NCVO’s long-time bug-bears is the lack of reliable government data about its spending with the voluntary sector. Without this data, it is impossible for the government to get timely evidence about whether it’s ‘open public services’ plans are working. In a small but useful development, DCLG’s latest guidance to councils requires them to publish the charity or company number of organisations it awards contracts to. The data will still be incomplete (doesn’t include sub-contracts, for example), but better than before and should enable us to make some provisional estimates.

Finally, pens at the ready!

There are a number of important consultations ongoing at the moment that we’d encourage our members to respond to, if they are relevant for you.

  • NCVO, Institute of Fundraising and Charity Finance Group are surveying members to advise Treasury about changes needed to improve take-up of the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme.
  • NCVO’s call for evidence about the impact of welfare reforms on your beneficiaries
  • NAVCA’s Commission on the Future of Infrastructure consultation
  • Big Lottery Fund’s strategic review
  • Cabinet Office consultation on design of its £40m local sustainability fund

Colleagues have also asked me to mention three forthcoming events to you:

  • Evolve is the voluntary sector’s annual conference on 13  June in Manchester and 16 June in London. We still have places available and a great line-up, so do join us if you can.
  • Volunteers’ Week runs from 1-7 June.
  • And if you’re bored of reading research reports, why not watch a play? Untold Stories of Volunteering will be performed twice during Volunteers’ Week – in London and Leicester.
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Charlotte Ravenscroft was NCVO’s head of policy and public services. Charlotte’s wrote about funding, public service delivery, and strengthening the evidence base for voluntary action. She has also worked at the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Education.

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