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Faith in Public Service – Ian Sansbury, Ben Cowdrey, and Lea Kauffmann-de Vries

April 30, 2016

Oasis TAmid cuts in public spending, the Church needs to “re-imagine its role and to re-orientate itself more radically towards social action and the delivery of public services”, say the authors of this report, published by the Oasis Foundation. It is critical of the Government for the “grossly inadequate” investment in charities’ capabilities which has relegated the Big Society to little more than a slogan.

The report suggests that individual churches could “go further than the delivery of foodbanks and debt advice”, and move more into the provision of health-care and education. They might, however, need more “effective leadership, governance, finance and HR function” to do so.

Speaking at the launch at the House of Lords, Chalke said that religious groups could be relied on to deliver “more bang for your buck” because they were propelled by faith. “The Church’s task is always to engage and also to critique: neither one nor the other.” The State had a “great responsibility” to bear, particularly to the most vulnerable. …In the end, I am a pragmatist, and think that pragmatism comes from my reading of the New Testament: whilst I pray for God’s Kingdom to come in its completeness . . . and I know that earthly institutions have a responsibility in bringing that about, I think I need to get on and offer help with all the energy and strength that I can muster…..The Government was more likely to listen to those who had “skin in the game” and were “doing the job on the ground”.

Mr Chalke said that he had seen a “steady rise” in restrictions on religious organisations in grant forms. Fears were not always unjustified, he said: “There are those within the Church who have used and abused money and networks and opportunities to proselytise. . . Our offer has to be unconditional.”

Also present at the launch this week was the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines. “The Church has to both question the ideological drivers behind the roll back of the State and, simultaneously, get ahead of the opportunities this also throws up,” he said on Wednesday. “It is harder to make something happen than to complain about what is being lost. This is the balancing act the Church has to do.”

The Big Society has, so far, failed to live up to its promise. The authors accuse the Government of failing to articulate “meaningful policies”, and of abandoning the “grand design” that had envisaged a massive increase in the delivery of public services by charities.

Cuts in government spending have dwarfed small increases in charitable donations and volunteering and the Big Society project remains hampered by a lack of capacity in the voluntary sector, an insufficient devolution of power, and weaknesses in local-authority commissioning.

Local authorities have ended up outsourcing services to “profit-motivated, impersonal quasi-monopolies” such as Serco, which are “likely to be less personal, less effective, and more expensive” than those run by councils or charities.

The report  points out that, because of ideologically driven Government cuts, local authority budgets have fallen by 19 per cent since 2010 but the concept of a bigger civil society “remains a good one”, it says, and there is “huge potential” for the Church to engage in it.

The report calls for a “radical rebranding and relaunch” of the Big Society, entailing communication of the “social contract which underpins the move towards a smaller state”, with a view to bringing about a “change in national culture”.

Detailed recommendations include:

A bolder mandate and improved resourcing for the Office for Civil Society;

A radical and robust re-communication of the social contract which underpins the move towards a smaller state,  in which care for the vulnerable and the creation of opportunity for all must be the  responsibility of the nation at large in the form of increased individual and corporate  support for civil society and the voluntary sector;

The creation of a Civil Society Taskforce, bringing together central and local government, the voluntary sector and faith organisations to design and deliver a comprehensive strategy for the creation of a reinvigorated and properly resourced Big Society.

National investment programmes to develop the capacity and capability of the voluntary sector, particularly to address charities’ relative governance and leadership weaknesses.

The development of national ‘hothouse’ programmes to identify, train and support social entrepreneurs, in much the same way that recruitment and training in the teaching profession has been overhauled over the past decade.

Positive action to resolve the ‘cold spots’ in which voluntary sector presence and funding is weak,particularly in more deprived areas.

Faith in Public Service – The Role of the Church in Public Service Delivery Assistance for voluntary sector organisations to become more “local authority shaped”, both geographically and in their ability to engage in service delivery contracts.

More rigorous application of the Social Value Act and further development of commissioning best practices to encourage a move to more intelligent, longer-term commissioning by central and local government and more proactive investment in voluntary sector capabilities.

Proper assessment and resolution of the barriers to charity formation and growth, to include a detailed examination of the levels of bureaucracy faced by the voluntary sector, particularly among smaller organisations.

A re-examination of the relationship between business and the voluntary sector, including a renewed national focus on corporate social responsibility, incentives for employee volunteering, company giving and the provision of pro bono goods and services.

Better recognition of the role and value of charity trusteeship, including incentives for business to promote trusteeship among employees and for universities to include trustee appointment as a key element of MBA courses.

Re-examination of the incentives for personal charitable giving, including national recognition for philanthropy and a review of tax incentives for charitable donation.

But there are issues to be faced: An online survey of 124 church leaders, conducted by Oasis, found that only 28 per cent of those questioned felt confident about running substantial public services, such as education or health-care. The solution, the report says, is collaboration between churches. They will need to recruit leaders who combine “a strong commitment to service, entrepreneurial flair, practical commercial skills, and ideally, but perhaps not essentially, a meaningful theological foundation”.

Polling conducted for the report illustrates the challenges facing faith groups. A YouGov survey of 1710 adults found that 37 per cent of those questioned believed that their services “would be used as an opportunity to attempt to convert people”, and that 26 per cent felt that “minority groups, such as LGBT people, will be excluded.”

The report says that churches must be “fully inclusive, non-discriminatory, and non-proselytising”, and suggests the drawing up of an “inclusion charter” that churches could adopt to allay such fears.

big socWhat the report doesn’t do is question the ideology underpinning the Big Society. Despite observing a few of the negative impacts of cuts to local-authority funding, including the number of children now living in poverty in privately rented homes, the report concludes none the less that “the concept of a bigger and broader civil society remains a good one.” Its message is clear: this is an opportunity for the Church, one that it has failed to grasp.

It is right to argue that the Church must play its part in building civic society, as must all individuals and stakeholders. There will always be fish that fall through the state’s net that can be caught by smaller agencies. The Church cannot be silent, however, when it sees the conditions for such a partnership being undermined by government indifference and an ideology that subcontracts care to commercial interests such as Serco and G4S. Before the Church too readily resumes responsibility for widows and orphans, it ought to question why those orphans are once more being placed on its doorstep.


CHURCHES should take advantage of the opportunities presented by the shrinkage of the State by delivering “substantial public services”

In the words of Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s former director of strategy: “The biggest problem with government today is that the people making the decisions are too far from the people affected by them. Government is too big, too distant. The UK has one of the most centralised governments in the world: to an absurd and counterproductive degree, things are run from the centre.”

Big Society cannot succeed unless power is more broadly devolved to the communities and organisations that can deliver at a local level. It can only succeed if communities feel both the responsibility and authority to make decisive changes in the way that they are run.

Churches also have an important sense of ‘place’ within a neighbourhood, both in the form of premises with relatively low overheads and in terms of a landmark ‘bridge’ into the local community. And in a way that is often not the case for other local organisations, churches are typically perceived by their communities as having an incarnational ministry – they are not just there for local residents but also with local residents for the long term.

A YouGov survey conducted in early April 2016 found that the public perceives the following relative advantages in church-delivered public services:

They are more likely to care (31%)

They are more likely to add the personal touch (27%)

They are more likely to care about the background issues, not just the issue that needs to be dealt with immediately (27%)

They will be connected to other community groups and ensure care is integrated (22%)

They will be more motivated to do a good job (20%)

The report is online here

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