Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Towards a Croydon VCSE Strategy

In 2013 Croydon Voluntary Action carried out the biggest research study so far this century on Croydon’s voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE). ‘The results show that not only is Croydon’s VCSE continuing to deliver high-quality transformational services, but that at its grassroots - across a range of diverse communities - the VCSE is rediscovering a spirit of enterprise and self-reliance among local people that is being harnessed for much wider community benefit.’

Research Findings

The research shows:
·       ‘how citizen led, innovative and preventative services in the VCSE are at the forefront of tackling the borough’s most intractable social problems.’
·       ‘the financial pressures the VCSE  is under are stretching many local organisations to breaking point. This has a double whammy effect - it poses an immediate threat to the services currently being delivered; and it inhibits the income generation and enterprise that makes those services sustainable over the longer term.’
·       The need for action now - action on behalf of the local statutory and private sector partners who make an investment in Croydon’s VCSE; and on behalf of the VCSE itself that is trying so hard to retain a culture of learning and development in the face of what has become for many a day-to-day struggle to survive.’

Emerging Themes

Three key themes that have emerged from the discussions to develop a VCSE Strategy to help develop an initial framework for the drawing up of action plans are:
·       Citizen-led activity: ‘investment in the citizen-led activities within Croydon’s VCSE that (i) build community resilience and cohesion; (ii) promote new forms of volunteering; (iii) nurture new forms of VCSE activity; and (iv) transform the partnership between Croydon Council and the community.’
·       Core VCSE competencies: these need to be developed
·       Funding policy and practice: Croydon Council and other statutory partners need ‘to be creative in managing a range of funding programmes that play to the strengths of the local VCSE and deliver social value.’

Priorities for Change

The Draft Strategy identifies a series of compelling and inter-linked priorities for change – foremost among these are:

• The case for volunteering:
• The case for community development:
• The case for efficiency and effectiveness:
• The case for collaboration
• The case for enterprise
• The case for Grant-Aid
• The case for Social Value in Commissioning

The challenge now is to convert the Strategy into actions that support the VCSE in its role. There will be on going consultations and further research to strengthen the Strategy, before discussions begin with partners that lead to the formulation of action plans for future presentation to the relevant decision making bodies (i.e. the Council Cabinet; the CCCG Board etc).

Additional  Points for Considerattion

Having worked and been an activist in the community and voluntary sector for over 40 years and having been involved in many discussions on developing strategies for the sector, I would add the following points:

·     Public sector partners pay lip service to the role of the VCSE but cannot understand its complex diversity, do not fully appreciate the many value roles the sector plays, and act in ways which undermines the sector.
·     The continuing drastic cuts in public sector budgets means that funding is not going to be available except through two main methods: asset transfer and award of contracts using the provisions of the Social Value Act as enshrined in Council policy and its toolkit:   
·     Many Council officers see the dual service/campaigning role of the VCSE as a threat and will pick those they consider it is safe to work with and marginalise others.
·     The independence of VCSE organisations is always under threat from grant and contract conditions and attempts by funders to micro-manage. This impedes the role of the VCSE as risk takers and contravenes the charitable trustee duties of their Committees.

The third part of my contribution to discussion on the kind of economy we want for Croydon examines the role of the VCSE sector. It will be posted on Citizen Croydon shortly.

Previous blogs 

by me on aspects of the role of the sector can be seen at:
Community and Mutual Ownership in History and Today: August 2010
Croydon and The Role of Community and Voluntary Sector Organisations. December 2012
Community & Voluntary Organisations and Local Democracy. December 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment