88% of social service users prefer those provided by the third sector. Why? Because they cater for the individual. But what is the future of the third sector in the UK? ...
Which social services are better, those provided by the government or by the third sector? In England it is up to the beneficiaries of the services to decide. And it is clear where their preferences lie: 88% of societies most vulnerable members ? the elderly, the disabled, people with drug addictions or in need of special care ? choose the non profit sector.
These results don?t come from any old telephone survey but are what emerges from the ?Personal budget holder? project launched by the government in 30 Local Authorities. The project is based on the following rationale: that it is no longer up to the government to choose how to spend the money for the care social services beneficiaries are entitled to, rather the equivalent in pounds to the care that they would have received is placed directly onto the bank accounts of beneficiaries - they are free to choose how to spend the money on the care that best suits them. And the results are that most chose the non profit sector.
?These results leave no shadow of doubt: as soon as people have the chance to, they abandon centralised, standardised government run services and go for what civil society offers, that is to say services that are designed to meet individual needs. Anyone that looks for proof of the third sector?s performance can find it here?. Peter Kyle, rising star of England?s non profit sector knows about public service devolution first hand and he gives us his word.
As consultant for the ex Minister for the third Sector, Ed Miliband (recently promoted by Gordon Brown to Cabinet office minister) Kyle took part in launching the devolution. Today he monitors it?s implementation from a privileged position: Acevo, the association of third sector leaders where he works as Director of strategy and enterprise.
What is the secret of successful devolution?
To reform the logic with which services are contracted out, that is to say economic convenience. New decision making criteria must be introduced that make it possible to decide who really offers the best service to the beneficiaries.
For example, what criteria?
Firs of all, the amount of time spent on each user. It has been proved that the third sector spends more time than the private or public sectors with the users of services. And it does so with a holistic approach that allows different social needs to be addressed at the same time. All this is impossible in the public sector: if you need both a house and health care you must approach two different departments, each one with their own set of rules. Judging by the social impact that services have, as well as their cost, the third sector has all the right weapons to compete with the public sector for the assignment of contracts.
What and how many services should be managed by the third sector?
To state a percentage would be to put a roof on the sector?s potential and its hopes for growth. Our objective is a different one: we want to find a system to assign public services so that the needs of beneficiaries are really met. The Government has said that it expects a lot from the third sector, but unfortunately their interventions to support it don?t measure up to the same scale. This is a problem that the executive has decided to solve: at the moment it is training 2000 commissioners in the peculiarities and strengths of the non profit sector. And the office for the third sector is working to define new standards for the assignment of public services.
The Office for the Third sector has a budget of £250 million, crumbs when compared to other departments. What weight does the office actually have within the government?
Its strength doesn?t lie in its spending capacity but in its position: the office lies within the Cabinet office, which is the heart of the government, the central station that coordinates all of the departments and through which, eventually, all the policies and reforms have to pass through. Working inside the Cabinet office means having direct contact with and influence on other ministries and means that the role of the third sector can be promoted transversally.
The Office has been running for 18 months. To date how has it been able to promote the third sector?
The department for Employment and pensions, in charge of nearly the whole of the welfare budget for people, launched a process of services devolution for hundreds of millions of pounds to go to about fifty NGOs. At the end of the first round of proposals, only 2 charities were chosen for the contract. The office and the Ministry for the Third sector carried out keavy personal lobbing work and, in the second round of proposals, 40% of the contracted services went to non profit entities.
The Office for the Third sector doesn?t exist in other European countries and is a product of the Labour government. What would happen to your budget and mission if the Conservatives were to win the next elections?
I don?t think that they would dismantle it. When David Cameron became the Conservative leader he declared that he would be placing his bets on the third sector. However, his spokesperson recently said that the third sector must get over its materialism. This kind of declaration makes civil society worry that there could be cuts in the funds for the sector, and reduced powers for the Office of the Third sector. The conservatives are also definitely against the modification of the law that stops charities from ?doing? politics. I, on the other hand, think it should be abolished.
In America the non profit world is breaking that very same law: many NGO brands are actively trying to influence the race for the White house.
I think that they are making a mistake because by doing so they risk changing the perception that people have of NGOs, of the trust that they deposit in them. The reason I would like to see the law abolished is entirely different: it discriminates against the smaller organisations that may want to use their limited budgets to change social policies rather than to spend on awareness raising campaigns.
What will the English non profit sector be like in five years time?
Proud of becoming more and more professional. Better prepared to plan its interventions over a long time scale and even better paid.
Do you think that the social enterprise boom will lead to the disappearance of traditional non profit organisations?
No. But one thing is for sure: the whole sector must become more entrepreneurial. The days of counting on philanthropy and public funds are over. Civil society must change its attitude and learn to think business.
In the future English charities will have to prove that they have a real social impact through the ?public benefit test? that you contributed to creating by working on the 2006 Charities Act. What effect will the test have on the third sector?
The radical changes that the extreme left wing were looking for ? like preventing big schools like Eton from having non profit status? will not happen because these institutions have large budgets to invest in the social. On the other hand though, the test will have a significant impact because it will encourage small entities that work in the same fields to fuse so to increase their impact on the territory. And also because it prevents religious and educational bodies to have an automatic non profit status and the fiscal benefits that come with it, a right they have had for over 400 years.