The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the FSI (BS 107)


—  The FSI is a registered charity that supports the UK's small charity sector (paras 1-3).

—  The FSI urges the government to work with the small charity sector in the development of the Big Society (para 4).

—  The FSI would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee (para 5).

—  The FSI defines the Big Society in the context of devolution of power to local areas and the empowerment of citizens to deliver services in their area (paras 6-11).

—  The FSI advocates a sustainable mixed income economy model for all charities to ensure the ongoing delivery of services (paras 12-14).

—  The voluntary and community sector is able to deliver public sector contracts but must be bound by legislative and best practice frameworks (paras 15-18).

—  The sector must develop and deliver within a rigorous best practice framework (paras 19-25).

—  The FSI welcomes collaboration between charities and local authorities (paras 26-27).


1.  The FSI is a registered charity that supports the UK's vibrant small charity sector with strategic training, consultancy and advocacy services aimed at building sustainability and knowledge-sharing. Small charities can access free capacity-building programmes that encompass the full range of fund development and back-office operations.

2.  The FSI is dedicated to delivering services that support charities to develop a mixed income economy ensuring a reduction in dependency on either state, voluntary or earned income. Our aim is to support the development of a sector that is independent of any one source of income to ensure stability and neutrality, so that the first concern of all sector organisations is the beneficiaries who need their support.

3.  The FSI welcomes both the government's commitment to engaging with the third sector and the opportunity to contribute to this green paper consultation. As the largest umbrella body focused solely on small charities, we are uniquely placed to comment from our experience of working with thousands of small charities between 2007 and 2011.

4.  We urge the government to consult with the small charity sector and utilise the networks of organisations like the FSI to ensure that the small charity sector can contribute to the delivery of the Big Society.

5.  The FSI would welcome the opportunity to make an oral submission to the Committee.

A definition of what the "Big Society" is or should be

6.  Drawing from government speeches and statements from the past 18 months, and from our experience in working with the small charity sector, the FSI makes the following definition: Big Society is born from the vision of living in a "post-bureaucratic age", a time when local communities have greater powers to take over and deliver local services. The underlying belief is that if local communities have more knowledge about the services that are delivered to them and what issues affect them, then they themselves will come up with fresh ideas using more innovation and creativity and at a lower cost than has been delivered by bureaucratic structures.

7.  Fundamental to the Big Society is a belief that local people are often best places to solve local problems and improve the communities in which they live. In reality, it is about enabling citizens to play a part, however large or small, and to create a culture of shared responsibility that acknowledges that the state cannot do it all on the one hand, and that equally citizens cannot do it all on the other. Only by collaboration, by sharing information and openness will some of the challenges we face be overcome at all levels of society. Therefore local charities are best placed to meet the needs of local people who require local solutions to improve local communities.

8.  If all goes well, this will be the largest redistribution of power from "Whitehall Mandarins to the man and woman on the street".

9.  The government talks about three strands:

—  The first strand is about transferring real power to communities;

—  The second strand is about public service reform: opening up public services to new providers including, specifically, the voluntary and community sector, bringing those services closer to the people who use them, and liberating people who are at the frontline of delivering those services; and

—  The third strand is about social action - inspiring people and making it easier for them to give time and money to things done locally to help people.

10.  The current challenge will be to deliver the message in a way that inspires and encourages citizens to mobilise. The second will be to overcome using the words Big Society as a catchphrase as this will only ensure it continues to be misunderstood.

11.  The Big Society must be communicated as a long-term project that will only be delivered through cultural change and this could take generations.

The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society

12.   The delivery of the Big Society vision itself will not be impacted by the reductions in public expenditure. Whilst the reduction has impacted some charities, which are in essence Big Society organisations, neither the Big Society nor the cuts came before one another - both were outlined in the pre-election manifesto and each are being delivered consecutively rather than one responding to the other.

13.  Some charities became over-reliant on statutory income, to the detriment of other funding streams. It is important for all charities to maintain a mixed income economy to ensure the continued delivery of core charitable purpose to the identified beneficiary group.

14.  The FSI has unequivocally promoted the mixed income economy model, which is core to the FSI's work.

The role of and capacity for the voluntary and community sector to deliver local public services including the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour to subsidise costs

15.  Voluntary and community sector organisations successfully deliver statutory contracts in all areas of public spending. Small charities in particular are able to offer specialised skills and links to specific beneficiary groups including, often, those judged to be hardest to help.

16.  It is not appropriate for charitable income to be applied to the delivery of public services. This runs entirely against the duty of care that exists between an organisation and its donors and the promotion of transparency and accountability.

17.  Charities are often bound by funding agreements with donors, particularly trust and foundation income, and it is important to maintain a rigorous framework tracking and reporting to this. To this end, the FSI promotes best practice around the clear application of funds to their stated purpose.

18.  Charities are bound by the provisions of the Charities Act 2006 and any/all subsequent amendments.

Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government

19.  Many small charities possess valuable skills and community engagement that can deliver excellent impacts within public delivery. It is absolutely right that the Government should utilise these skills in the delivery of the public services to defined beneficiary groups.

20.  It is imperative that the process, selection and delivery of commissioning is open and transparent with clear accountability processes.

21.  The Government and voluntary sector has a duty to champion best practice in all areas of work, particularly commissioning. There is a clear need for charities to understand the ethical and ideological considerations of their own funding model, ensuring a suitably balanced mixed income economy that balances the sustainability of their core benefit delivery with any public contracts.

22.  In promoting best practice, it is imperative to advocate for rigorous monitoring and evaluation frameworks so that charities delivering public services can report to their commissioners and non-statutory funders as to the efficacy and impact of their work.

Governance and accountability issues arising out of different organisational forms of social enterprise and co-operatives; and the participation of voluntary sector and community groups in greater public service provision

23.  Accountability should be clearly defined from the outset of each contract, which should be entered into after appropriate due diligence by that charity.

24.  The Government and Civil Society should work collaboratively to strengthen The Compact and ensure its application to all public/charity sector contracts.

25.  Charities should have access to training and information regarding best practice in working with commissioners and with prime contractors. The FSI provides free training to small charities, including a one day course on Being Bid Ready: Working with Prime Contractors, and would welcome the opportunity to work with the government in the wider rollout of strategic learning for small charities in the provision of public contracts.

The place of local authorities in the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities and the role democratically elected local councillors should play

26.  Local communities, and in turn the small charities working within those communities, understand the issues facing those communities and are often best-placed to address the causative effects and social outcomes of these issues, as defined in paragraphs 6-11 of this submission.

27.  The FSI is working to promote greater collaboration between local authorities and the small charity sector to ensure that both parties acknowledge the benefits of collaboration and the knowledge, skills and experience each party brings to the collaboration.

March 2011

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Prepared 14 December 2011