Disabling local infrastructure

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Colleagues at Adur Voluntary Action set out what’s wrong with the Transforming Local Infrastructure scheme and ask key questions to help us find an alternative.

The UK Office for Civil Society’s Transforming Local Infrastructure scheme offers £50m to fund local support organisations to merge, collaborate and  share services such as IT. The funding is short term because mergers and shared services are supposed to reduce the need for state funding for support organisations while improving support for local voluntary and community groups. The deadline to register for the scheme is 5 August 2011.

The ridiculously short timescale has been reported (see a Third Sector editorial for example) but the scheme also shows a failure to understand how community and voluntary organisations already support other organisations. Some – the locally rooted ones – would still prefer to collaborate rather than compete despite years of being “transformed” into something the government is more comfortable with.

Artificially dividing infrastructure and delivery damages local voluntary action by promoting competition rather than collaboration. The division makes it more difficult to respond to local needs.

Despite the scheme’s aims to improve support for community action the most likely scenario is that little or no power will be transferred to local groups, while voluntary action, alongside local public services, will be decimated by public sector spending cuts, compounded by competition between voluntary organisations bidding for contracts to deliver mainstream public services.

Adrian Barrit, CEO of Adur Voluntary Action said: “Voluntary and community action is hard graft, not quick fix. It depends upon consistent people, consistent networks, consistent policies, consistent support.”

Here are Adrian’s key questions for local staff and Trustees to ask of themselves and their organisations before participation in the scheme:

  • To what are we rooted, and why?
  • Are we independent voluntary organisations, or a part of the state?
  • Are we a “service deliverer” or part of our local community?
  • In a crunch, are we committed to our community, or to our organisation’s survival?
  • Would participation benefit our area long-term? How and why?
  • Why does this initiative sound so familiar?
  • What are the opportunity costs of participation? Now, and long term?
  • Do we accept the ideology that “there is no alternative”? Why?
  • Are we willing to think for ourselves and our organisations, and live with the consequences?
  • Are we happy for our communities to pay the price of ill thought-out policies? Of the world that these policies are trying to build?
  • Are we happy to take the blame for implementing policies that are ideologically based, under-resourced and based on internal contradictions? Who will be responsible and left to pick up the pieces if these fail?
  • Are we willing to encourage the public to challenge and question misleading ideologies? Are we happy as charities to promote a party political ideology which has been widely rejected within the academic world as lacking in conceptual or heuristic meaning, and evidence base?
  • Do we accept the double-sided ‘big society’ coin, which when tossed lands – heads or tails, it’s no matter – on public sector cuts with reduced voluntary sector support? Does not our participation imply such acceptance?

Click here to read Adrian’s full analysis.

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