Unsung heroes: how do recent voluntary sector experiences at community level match the Government’s view of its future role?
Milbourne, Linda (2007)

By Linda Milbourne, Birkbeck College (London)

In its recent review of the Third Sector[1], the UK Cabinet Office has emphasised its future rôle in social and economic regeneration, highlighting government commitment to building capacity and greater community involvement in service provision and local decision making. The review also stresses the importance of campaigning activities, and of understanding how the principles of good practice in cross-sector relationships underpinning Compacts can be better supported.

The last decade has seen a growing policy agenda focused on inter-agency collaboration and partnerships, and more recently, voluntary sector capacity building and community participation programmes. However, there has been limited debate on the appropriateness of these endeavours in addressing social problems or their effects on voluntary sector organisations.

In this paper, I examine aspects of the government’s aims for the third sector’s rôle and consider potential for progress compared with recent research. In particular, I explore aims of improving the environment in which voluntary organisations work; ensuring organisations have a right to campaign for change; and encouraging influence on policy-making. I draw on data from a study involving some 50 community-based organisations, providing children and young people’s services in a deprived inner-city locality, to question effects of recent changes in the environment of ‘new localism’ on voluntary providers faced with new commissioning plans. The paper identifies some progress in supporting community services in deprived areas but argues that current contradictions between policy aspirations and experiences of practice need to be addressed or they will continue to undermine endeavours at community level

[1] OTS (2007) The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration. London: Office of the Third Sector, Cabinet Office.

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