The Kruger report: The start of a serious conversation about charities and volunteering

Sarah Vibert, director of public policy, reflects on the ‘Levelling up our communities’ report from Danny Kruger MP.

Just a few weeks ago we were starting to talk about lessons learnt from the crisis and the role of voluntary organisations and volunteers in the recovery from covid-19. It now feels like a very different conversation.

With new restrictions in place and a second wave confirmed, charities and volunteers are thinking about how to continue supporting communities through what is predicted to be a difficult winter.

#NeverMoreNeeded

This makes it even more apt that Danny Kruger MP has today published his review. This focus is welcome. It’s great to have someone at the heart of government seriously thinking about the role of charities and volunteers.

Kruger’s recognition that charities need more support, in the short term and during a future recovery phase is crucial. From his recommendations, I’ve picked out a few themes that are particularly important to NCVO’s members.

Recognition of the role of volunteering

Covid-19 has meant greater recognition of volunteers, who have played a critical role in the national response. The role of mutual aid groups is rightly acknowledged in Kruger’s report, as well as the charities working alongside informal forms of community support.

Addressing barriers to volunteering is a long-standing aim of NCVO’s, as well as many others in the sector. Kruger’s recommendation to consider a requirement for employers to give time off to volunteer as trustees and school governors is very welcome, as are his ideas to address diversity in volunteering.

One of the headline proposals is for a ‘volunteer passport’ to help volunteers move between opportunities. The other is whether we could create a National Volunteer Reserve to help with future emergencies and environmental projects.

We welcome ideas to make it easier for more people to get involved in their communities. But we need to make sure that in doing this, we don’t overlook the special nature of people giving their time freely.

It’s important that the motivation, resources and skills of volunteers are considered first and foremost. The crisis has also shown the importance of volunteer managers and volunteer centres in the volunteering effort. Recognition of this is largely absent from Kruger’s analysis.

A social value purpose for all public spending

The crisis has shown that changing how services are commissioned and delivered can allow voluntary organisations to better respond to what communities and citizens want and need. The recommendation to take a more radical step in getting social value at the heart of commissioning is an important one.

A key step which we – and others – have called for is to give the Social Value Act more traction. The requirement in the act that public bodies ‘consider’ social value in public sector contracts should be upgraded so that they must ‘account for’ social value.

The report goes further than this, suggesting that government should create a law outlining that the whole purpose of public spending is to deliver value for society, not just value for money for one particular budget. This ‘social value purpose’ would impose a requirement to consider the whole of government accounts when designing and awarding contracts.

A declaration that the purpose of public spending is social value would be a big change.  It will require time for the system and commissioners to adapt. But change is necessary, and this could play a huge part in encouraging a more collaborative and trusting model of service design and commissioning.

Transfer of wealth and power to communities

The starting point for our submission to Kruger’s review was that people and communities should be given as much control as possible, as well as the assets they require, to make a full contribution to society.

A key proposal is the creation of a ‘Levelling Up Communities’ Fund. This chimes with the sector’s calls for a Community Wealth Fund, established using the money from the next wave of dormant assets. Regardless of what it’s called, the push to unlock further dormant assets to create a permanent endowment for communities is welcome.

We would add that focus should be given to those communities that have not benefited from Britain’s wider economic prosperity. This would align the fund to the priorities and vision of the government’s post-covid-19 recovery efforts and ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The report could have reflected more on specific policies that would get to the heart of addressing deep rooted inequalities in communities. Both covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted how communities are clamouring for change and the need to learn, listen and take urgent action on addressing disadvantage.

The start of a serious conversation

While we might not agree with all the ideas in Kruger’s report, there is alignment with many of NCVO’s aspirations for civil society. Kruger’s report sets out a vision of a renewed ‘social covenant’ where civil society and government work together for common good with mutual responsibilities.

This is in-keeping with NCVO’s previous calls to refresh the Compact, a mutual agreement between the government and the voluntary sector. It’s in this spirit I hope we can engage with the ideas put forward, leading to a much more serious and detailed conversation about the role our sector can play. We are keen to help facilitate that and look forward to working with both Danny Kruger and Baroness Barran as they look to take these ideas forward.

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Sarah Vibert Sarah Vibert is director of public policy and volunteering at NCVO. She is responsible for policy, communication, volunteering development and research.

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