The relationship of discontent between voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations and public bodies


JRCT Staff December 2011

Guest blog by Maureen Grant, Development Officer for The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and former Trustee of Involve Yorkshire & Humber.

Maureen manages The West Yorkshire Racial Justice Programme and her role involves supporting projects working for race equality, social justice and civil rights in the region.

JRCT’s Racial Justice Programme also funds work which aims to change policy and practice at national and European level; and promotes racial justice and equality of opportunity as a basis for a harmonious multi-racial, multi-ethnic society in Britain.

Maureen is about to embark upon a three-month sabbatical to explore models for social change through collaboration, which will see her visit a number of organisations in Canada.

“This idea is about bringing about changes to racial justice by exploring how the BME voluntary and community sector organisations are collaborating with those that are important in helping them to work effectively. Having worked with many organisations over the years that sometimes struggle, often with limited success, to influence policy makers and those delivering key services to communities, I felt this is an area I want to explore more, so I decided to base the theme of my sabbatical work on collaboration. I will be exploring models of good practice that would help the West Yorkshire’s grantees to collaborate effectively with all their stakeholders in order to get the best changes in our pursuit for racial justice in communities.”

In this blog, Maureen ponders on the relationship between voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations and public bodies.


‘It is now mid-summer and time for rest and reflection as I contemplate how I might utilise the precious time I have away from the rigours of day-to-day life in the office.  As I while away the time in the uncharacteristically hot summer my mind drifts to questions like:

  • Why is it that communities already marginalised and facing social isolation struggle to make their voices heard…and why aren’t policy makers listening?
  • Whatever happened to COMPACT?
  • Could communities work together to make a difference?

The Coalition Government’s Compact Voice (2010) agreed a renewed Compact which according to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, plays a crucial part in improving the partnership between the Government and civil society organisations, for the benefit of citizens and communities. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg added: “A flourishing civil society is fundamental to achieving the Power Shift the Coalition Government is committed to, transferring power away from central government to local communities.”

Compact is supposed to: “underpin effective local partnerships and strengthens the contribution that VCS organisations can make to improving outcomes for local communities.”

So how do these fine words stack up today? Local authorities took great care to set out the principles and implementation of compact agreements in their areas; yet The Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) drawing on a 2010 study of Compact disputes found that many of these had arisen over the lack of (or inappropriate) consultation with the voluntary sector; but surprisingly, the most common reason for disputes has been the local authorities’ lack of understanding for the issues facing the voluntary and community sector organisations and the communities they serve. This leaves the voluntary sector organisations no choice but to raise their dissatisfaction through an official process. Underlining these disputes is the imbalance of power and the lack of a mutually respectful relationship.

In 2012, the picture was not much different. There are examples of local authorities not carrying out detailed impact assessments before taking action to withdraw funding to organisations. In his blog, Standing up for the voluntary sector, submitted to NCVO, July 2012, Daniel Fluskey reported on a Compact Voice survey which found that 30% of areas reported that notice of funding was provided only some of the time or not at all, with scant regard for the consequences of such changes.

As I consider these issues, I also ponder what needs to happen to address these shortcomings in this relationship that renders the most marginalised in our communities virtually voiceless.

My thinking will continue in Canada in the next couple of months while I undertake my sabbatical. I hope to share the learning from these experiences with JRCT’s grantees in West Yorkshire and anyone interested in finding new strategies to explore these vital relationships. I welcome your thoughts, comments and insights. Please do share your comments below – I really want to hear from you.

You can follow updates via my blog and Twitter: @leanandymag

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