‘Stronger charities for a stronger society’ - a new report released by the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities recognises the important role played by charities in supporting a thriving civil society and makes recommendations on how to support the sector in future.
Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) views the report as a positive opportunity to highlight the work of our 38 ACRE Network members, as well as that of our partners, in helping to create cohesive and sustainable communities in rural England. As identified in the ACRE response to the original call for evidence “In rural areas charities have a distinct and vital role of addressing market failure and providing the services that are fundamental to the fabric of rural life.”
ACRE’s initial consultation response specifically highlighted the following:
- The rural context is unique and is characterised by market failure and public spending constraints,
- That context leads to rural charities having very different needs,
- Rural charities have a key role in delivering services to rural communities,
- Village Halls have significant potential to improve the quality of life for rural communities
- The 38 ACRE Network members have a key role to play in supporting rural charities and potentially complementing the regulatory role of the Charities Commission
The opening lines of the report summary affirm that “Charities are the eyes, ears and conscience of society. They mobilise, they provide, they inspire, they advocate and they unite.” This recognition that charities have a key and fundamental place to occupy in civil society other than just in the provision of services formerly delivered by the state, is a very welcome and refreshing acknowledgement.
The importance of robust and effective governance is seen as a key priority by many of those who submitted a response to the report. This sentiment can be summed up by ACRE Network member Action in Rural Sussex’s response (featured in the report) “Good governance of charities is about ensuring assets and resources are subject to careful and rigorous stewardship…” Ensuring that charities are sustainable and that those involved in running the charity know their roles provides greater confidence for an investor, who may be able to provide funding for their activities.
The report acknowledges that the decline in grant funding to support the sector has had a detrimental effect on small charities, with the increase in commissioning and service-led contracts resulting in an uneven playing field for those providing local services and support. The report recommends “that Government provides support for the development of voluntary sector bidding consortia, and takes steps to promote commissioning based on impact and social value rather than simply on the lowest cost.” The Committee also highlights the need for the public sector to better understand the potential of social finance, and that this should not be seen as the main source of funding for charities. Although an important resource, social finance must be seen as part of a wider and more diverse package of investment in the sector.
ACRE welcomes this report and, in particular, that the fundamentally important role of charities in civil society has been recognised with such prominence. The ACRE Network will continue to work with those who are affecting change at a local level to facilitate sustainable local action. ACRE’s influencing and policy roles complements this grass roots action by ensuring that the community voice of rural England is heard at a national level.