***Press Release: embargo 00:01 hours, Thursday 14 July 2011***
New Panel will assess the state of independence in the voluntary sector
–5 year programme launches with report and consultation–
A new Panel of senior figures from across the voluntary sector today launches its 5-year programme with a consultation seeking views about the independence of voluntary organisations.
The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector has been established by the Baring Foundation as part of its continuing commitment to support an independent and effective voluntary sector. Chaired by former Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers, the Panel will oversee a programme of work aimed at assessing the state of independence, opening up a wider debate and ensuring that independence is a top priority for everyone concerned.
Today’s consultation is the first part of this process. The Panel will seek views from across and beyond the sector about the challenges as they see them. In its first report, The Panel recognises that many voluntary organisations receive external funding, including though government contracts and grants. The Panel recognises the mutual benefits of partnership working but is concerned that independence should always be upheld. Some issues on which it is inviting views are:
- How to ensure independence is respected, to avoid the risk of some organisations simply becoming ‘delivery agents’ for public services, and being constrained in independence of voice or action or even diverted from their original purpose if independence is not respected;
- The possible impact of public spending cuts on the capacity of voluntary organisations to act independently and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable; and
- The impact of other changes – including the way in which the government funds and commissions services – on the sector’s independence.
The consultation document invites views and evidence to feed into a report on the state of independence to be published later this year – the first of five annual reports to come from the Panel.
A key part of the consultation is the proposal of a “Barometer” of independence. This has been designed to ask key questions to help judge how far independence in the sector is being maintained and achieved.
Dame Anne, who is also chair of charities Christian Aid and Clinks, said today:
“Independence is vital to a vibrant and effective voluntary sector. It enables the voluntary sector to meet real and sometimes previously hidden needs, to speak up without fear or favour and to deliver services in original and effective ways.
“It is this independence – of purpose, voice and action – that makes the voluntary sector special. And this has to remain the top priority as the voluntary sector forges close relationships with the state and indeed other funders, whether they are large companies, charitable trusts or the Big Lottery.
“The prime responsibility for upholding independence lies with voluntary organisations themselves. This does not mean avoiding partnerships with others or not accepting funding. But it does mean always keeping centre stage the interests of the people and communities they serve.
“The sector’s role in service delivery, the impact of cuts in public spending, and the way that contracts are drawn up and commissioned are some of the issues on which we are inviting views and which we will be investigating in preparation for our first assessment of the state of independence, to be published towards the end of the year. ”
The full report and details about how to respond to the consultation, which ends on 21st September, can be found at www.independencepanel.org.uk
Note to Editors
1. The Panel, supported by the Baring Foundation, runs for five years to 2015. As well as Dame Anne Owers, its members are Nicholas Deakin, whose Deakin Report in 1996 led to the creation of the Compact; Conservative Peer, Lord Hodgson, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the recent government taskforce into cutting red tape for charities and social enterprise; Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission; Sir Bert Massie former Commissioner for the Compact and chair of the Disability Rights Commission; public law expert, Louise Whitfield; Nick Wilkie, chief executive of London Youth and; chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Julia Unwin.
2. At the end of each year, the Panel will publish an Annual Statement which will include a “Barometer of Independence” designed to measure where sector independence is strong or weak. The Panel will assess whether voluntary organisations are doing all they can to uphold independence and also look at the environmental factors that can have a profound influence, including the relationship with government and all other vested interests. It will make annual recommendations for the sector, government and other funders.
3. The Baring Foundation is an independent charitable foundation with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people suffering disadvantage and discrimination. It has been providing grants since 2006 to help foster voluntary sector independence.