We have ways of transforming you…..

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Cartoon of a dalekThe winners and losers in the Transforming Local Infrastructure beauty contest have been announced. But is twisting yourself into a pretzel to please the government the best way to support local voluntary action? Here Adrian Barritt has a rant against the rise of the cyberstate….

Back in the 1970’s, the Cybermen with their sibilous metallic voices and totally corporatist culture challenged Dr Who’s zanily anarchic battle for the existential right to be free and different. Their ultimate weapon was “absorption”, in which the enemy is processed so as to become one of them – another Cyberman. It’s hard to imagine a worse fate.

Yet the Cyberstate has been busily working on the same agenda for years, rolling out one funding scheme after another, all aiming in more or less subtle ways at absorption of genuine voluntary action. Cyberfund 2012 was the TLI (Transforming Local Infrastructure) offering.

And did they go for it! Whipped in by NAVCA, ACEVO, NCVO and all the talents, ‘infrastructure’ or ‘support and development’ bodies all over the country registered their interest, and embarked on the painstaking route towards bid submission. It was painstaking because only one bid was acceptable per top-tier local authority area, so they all had to get together and agree. It was competitive, need we add. Somehow they sublimated the maelstrom of contradictions and – we have to hand it to them – winged in the bids. Silence…until the evening of 1st February. Then the various Twitter and Facebook networks started to buzz, leeching out the frustration of those disenchanted souls who ignored the ‘embargo’. As in any enforced competition, there were many failures, and a lack of clarity about the rationale behind success or failure. It was the Big Lottery ‘BASIS’ all over again, and virtually as divorced from the realities of local voluntary action’s needs as its sister – the Social Action Fund.

And what was TLI really about? The ostensible purpose was to promote greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness so that local voluntary action could be better supported. The latent purpose was to reduce the number of support and development bodies by funding mergers, so that the smaller number could be more effectively controlled, and overall costs reduced. It was the same philosophy with which the Legal Services Commission (remember them?) ripped through the CAB network, destroying local accountability, devaluing Trustees, and leaving local authorities to clear up the mess at the same time as coping with draconian cuts in their own funding – the buck, of course, stopping with each disenfranchised local community and its users.  TLI showed no respect whatsoever for the diversity of roles of support and development organisations, often effectively demanding the coalescence of community anchor functions with volunteer centres, shared premises, service delivery, learning provision and community development. It showed no awareness of the government’s own localism programme, importance of strengthening local democracy or continuity of community life. It didn’t even acknowledge the Big Society myth.  It defined support and development as a service to be delivered, not as a multi-faceted part of local community life with a strong mutual aid component.

Fortunately this very destructive source of funding was not made available to all applicants, and NCIA congratulates the losers at the narrow escape that they and their local communities have had. Take heart – you are very far from alone! Think again about the TLI’s underling ideology and consider whether it really met your needs: the breath a sigh of relief. This offer was truly a dead parrot.

There are growing numbers of critiques of the neo-liberal philosophy underlying this. See for example:
‘Mad world, my masters’ and ‘A personal take on the voluntary sector’s dilemma’ at http://legacy.independentaction.net/2011/09/01/mad-world-tfi-view/
‘For insurgency: the case against partnership’ at http://legacy.independentaction.net/2012/01/25/for-insurgency-the-case-against-partnership/


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