The impact of Coalition policies on service-providing voluntary organisations
Benson, Andy; Rochester, Colin (2014)

Andy Benson, National Coalition for Independent Action, and Colin Rochester, Practical Wisdom R2Z

Historically a large number of voluntary organisations of all sizes have made a major contribution to the provision of a range of services individuals, families and communities. This role has been increasingly recognised and promoted by successive national governments since the 1980s and it has become commonplace to describe the voluntary sector as a major player on the social policy stage. The New Labour administrations of 1997-2010 in particular saw voluntary organisations as important vehicles for delivering public services at arms’ length and as partners – albeit junior ones – in tackling some of the key social issues of the day.

In some respects the Coalition government that came to power in 2010 has built on these foundations and has pushed these changes to their logical extremes. It has reduced the role of government by outsourcing many of its functions to the private and voluntary sectors and it has removed or reduced the funding available for services hitherto provided by local government and invited communities to fill the resulting gaps. In the process it has created a new and challenging environment for service-providing voluntary organisations.

This paper draws on evidence collected by the National Coalition for Independent Action as part of its Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services to assess the impact of government policy on voluntary organisations that deliver services in local communities and especially those of them that accept state money to support those activities. The Inquiry was launched in May 2013 and its final report will be issued in October 2014. The main means of collecting evidence and addressing the issues raised by the Inquiry has been the commissioning of a series of reports from a range of authors on different aspects of the impact of the changing environment on voluntary organisations and the services they provide. Further details of the Inquiry (including a full list of the thematic reports) are available on the NCIA website at

Our paper focuses on the financial consequences for service-providing voluntary organisations of their changed funding environment and the impact for them and the services they provide. It looks at:

  • The impact of the out-sourcing of public services on voluntary organisations
  • The issues raised by the imposition of procurement and commissioning practices by local authorities
  • The challenges of facing an increased need for services with diminishing resources
  • The extent to which the impact has been experienced differently by large and small organisations
  • The impact on specific services such as provision for BAME older people and refugees and migrant communities.

But, as well as presenting the evidence of the impact on service-providing organisations of government policies the paper explores the possibility of other ways in which organisations might respond to the current environment. It ends by setting out an agenda that provides an alternative to acquiescence in, and acceptance of, current trends by suggesting ways in which the direction of travel might be challenged and changed.


Andy Benson cut his teeth as a community activist in the early 1970s, working as a rights and community worker at Blackfriars Settlement in South London. After eight years of work in the housing and homelessness sector he went freelance in 1986. Since then, his consultancy work has taken him into most corners of the voluntary sector and public sectors – community groups, service-providing voluntary agencies, national charities, local authorities, NHS and central government departments. With his partner Penny Waterhouse, he set up the National Coalition for Independent Action in 2006,  and continues to work as its co-convenor.

Colin Rochester has worked in and with the voluntary and community sector for forty-five years as a practitioner, consultant and academic. His practical experience includes periods as National Development Officer for the Workers’ Educational Association and Head of Cambridge House Settlement and he has taught and conducted research at the LSE and Roehampton University. He is chair of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network and has also chaired ARVAC and the Voluntary Action History Society. His most recent book – Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum – was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

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