CVSs are “adrift from the grassroots and they tend to be silent around issues such as welfare reform”. So says the Chief Executive of Community Action Southwark. “There isn’t that voice. We have been seduced. The more fundamental questions aren’t being asked. That seduction is diminishing voluntary and community action.” And he’s not the only CVS frustrated and unhappy with how CVSs are responding to the pressures on local communities.
A meeting in September, organised by London Voluntary Services Council and NCIA, brought together 16 CVS to talk about the impact of cuts and austerity on their local communities and their role in tackling increasing inequality and injustice. “Our CVS is not resisting harmful changes and supporting communities under pressure” said one of those at the meeting. Another noted that “public service money is going to large global private companies, which increase poverty and reduce environmental sustainability. It is the CVS role to mobilise against privatisation, whether through private or voluntary agencies.”
In a world of growing economic and social inequalities, local Councils for Voluntary Services (CVSs) feel adrift from local people and under pressure to give the local authorities what they want. They rarely join with local campaigns and activists, working instead with statutory agencies making cuts, and helping their members become competitive in the fight for contracts. Gone is collective action alongside local people. Here comes compliant cheap labour as sub-contractor to the State and private sector .
But amidst this bleak picture, there are new mutual aid models of local co-operation and collective action, with examples of challenge and constructive dialogue with local decision-makers. Some are finding that loss of funding, by throwing off contractual shackles, can result in freedom of action and community benefits.
The critical issues they face and the ways to tackle them resulted in a plan of action for CVSs: linking with local activists and sharing campaign tactics; building alliances between insiders and outsiders; and creating “Civil Society Champions” in every CVSs to get back on the track of social justice.
Final questions were left hanging: what are the changes that CVSs want to see? What does a CVS stand for and who do they stand with? And why isn’t NAVCA, their ‘leadership’ body, shouting about these issues?
NCIA has called on NAVCA to speak out, and act, with others resisting cuts, austerity and privatisation of public services. And to encourage and support its members to do the same.