24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Debate on Europe in crisis - challenges to local and regional democracy: How to foster active citizenship at local and regional level – 19 March 2013
Statement by Joe Irvin, Chief Executive of NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), United Kingdom
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My name is Joe Irvin and I am Chief Executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action.
Our members are local ‘umbrella’ organisations who support and champion local charities and community groups. [ ]
Today I want to [explain] how voluntary organisations, charities and other not-for-profit groups (sometimes known as ‘the Third Sector’) can play a positive role in engagement of citizens in Europe.
Few people nowadays think the State can provide everything.
[Few ] think the Market can provide fairness in society.
The ‘Third Sector’ can help fill the vacuum.
[As Europe faces a new economic crisis, disengagement can take an even more dangerous turn.]
So [ ] how can we help foster Active Citizenship at local and regional level?
I think that we in the Third Sector can contribute positively.
[Two European bodies] represent the Third Sector, Euclid Network and ENNA.
But whilst I will draw on my experience in the UK, I hope [much] will apply across Europe.
There are three essential ways in which the Third Sector can assist in encouraging active citizenship.
· Active citizenship
· Strengthening communities
· Partnership in meeting public need
1. Active citizenship
Charities and community groups can galvanise active citizenship.
[People set up charities to further causes they hold dear]. They [do so] by volunteering their own time freely, at their own initiative.
For all we hear about problems in society, millions of people give their time to good causes though Volunteering.
Athletes, organisers and spectators were delighted at how the 70,000 people who volunteered to help with last year’s London Olympics – so called ‘Gamesmakers’ - added an extra dimension to the Games. We are looking to build in this civic spirit to encourage [volunteering] for local good causes.
In fact nearly 20 million people in the UK – over a quarter of the population - volunteer each year.
[ ] Some charities are [ ] well known.
[ ] Citizen’s Advice, helps people resolve legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice.
Shelter [works] to alleviate the distress caused by homelessness.[ ]
Or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds [ ] – which has more members than all the political parties in the UK put together.
[ ] But the vast majority of charities are small and local.
Such as Back2Earth working with [ ] people to [ ] grow local food around the Broadwater Farm district of London.
Or the Harrogate & Knaresborough Toy Library, lending toys and holding ‘stay and play’ sessions for children under five with their parents.[ ]
And the UK is not unique. The World Giving Index [ ] measures donations, volunteering and ‘how likely we are to help a stranger’. In 2012 the UK was ranked 8th in the World and 3rd in Europe, behind Ireland and the Netherlands.
Third Sector bodies can also foster Civic Participation.
Many NAVCA members in England host a Voluntary Assembly giving a representative point of contact with local councils.
Third Sector organisations can channel community feeling [ ] and facilitate engagement with local elected representatives. Some charities have a prime aim of educating the public, for example the British Youth Council runs a highly successful Youth Parliament, or increasing civic participation – Like ‘Operation Black Vote’.
And in England from next month, 152 new community-based bodies – known as ‘Healthwatch’ - will [ ] become the local consumer body informing and shaping Health services.
2. Strengthening communities
Community development is about supporting [ ] communities to [ ] articulate their needs - and [ ] develop their ability to organise themselves to take positive steps.
In a thousand ways through arts, sports or cultural activity – from scouts to migrant organisations – charities strengthen the bonds that bind our communities together. Stronger communities are safer communities.
Moreover, let’s not forget that the Third Sector makes an important contribution to the economy. In the UK the sector employs 793,000 people, and has a turnover of £36.7 billion.
This also strengthens communities. Indeed one major local authority I have spoken with is looking to ‘micro- [social ] enterprise’ to revive the most deprived parts of their city. [ ]
3. Partnership in meeting public need
Charities also deliver public services in the UK. Between 2000 and 2010 contracts to deliver public services by charities rose by 150% to reach over £10 billion.
For local politicians, charities can provide an attractive way to provide public services.
· By being close to service users, charities [ ] often know how to improve services - for example in mental health. [ ]
· Sometimes charities venture where neither the state nor the market is willing to operate. For example, services offering support on drugs dependency set up by former addicts.
· Many voluntary organisations have also pioneered services [ ] – For example the Terrance Higgins Trust, set up in 1982 to raise awareness of HIV [-AIDS], at a time of ignorance.
· Charities are well placed to deliver ‘early intervention’. A good example is Home-Start which provides peer-to-peer support by trained volunteers for young parents struggling to cope with their children. Home-Start can work with parents at a cost of less than £1,500 per family a year - so that their children do not end up in the care of local authorities, saving [enormous amounts] of public money.
· Charities can often be the most cost-effective way to deliver a service.
· And people trust charities. So charities can talk and listen to people that are out of the reach of state bodies.
Despite this, charities are being held back by poor and risk-averse commissioning.
This bad commissioning practice includes;
· Thinking that aggregating [huge] contracts and reducing the supplier base is the best way to achieve savings
· Applying EU rules in all procurements, even where the size or nature of the contract does not require this.
‘Smart Commissioning’ can [ ] allow more chance for not-for-profit organisations to offer to provide services and at the same time produce better results for the commissioning public body.
A Social Value law recently came into force in the UK.
[This law means public sector commissioners of services must consider (and can take account of) the added ‘social value’ a charity or other provider can bring to a contract. Citizen engagement itself may be one of these social values.]
The task now is to show it can make a real difference to commissioning and improve the lives of people in our communities.
I would certainly recommend that all countries across Europe should examine the case for similar social value legislation to improve commissioning of public services.
So I will leave you with this thought:
The final graph in the hand-out I gave you is known as the ‘Graph of Doom’ produced by our Local Government Association. It traces how local authority expenditure in England and Wales is expected to be cut over the next 10 years.
At the same time the rising cost of statutory requirements for Children’s Services, waste disposal and above all Adult Social Care (due to an ageing population) will squeeze the discretionary income local councils can choose to deploy down to a tiny percentage.
Some say this will mean there will be no room to support voluntary action.
But I look at it another way.
The challenges facing us are so great that we cannot possibly overcome them via one sector alone – even the public sector.
We will need the best of the public sector, the Third sector, individuals and yes the business sector to meet these challenges in the future.
The future must be one of co-production.
So simply ask yourself this question:
‘Are you doing everything you can to maximise the role the Third Sector can play in your locality?’