Civil Society Strategy - Our Thoughts

We welcome the publication of the government’s civil society strategy, and are pleased to see the contributions we and our members made to the consultation used to help positively shape the recommendations it contains.  We also welcome the commitment to regularly review the strategy, to ensure it is a living document, taking account of the changing needs and opportunities for our communities in the coming years.
Through the strategy you’ll see the work of 16 of our members directly referenced, as well as London Funders itself (from the case study on the Grenfell Tower funder response, featured on pages 35-36, through to our work with the place-based giving schemes across the capital).  We are grateful to all our members who contributed to the development of the strategy, through the workshop we hosted with the Cabinet Office where our members directly shared their experience and insight, through the written submission we made to the consultation based on your input, and through the dialogue we have had with the teams preparing the strategy where we have been able to highlight examples and ideas from across the London funding community.
We will be working with members over the coming months to consider what the strategy will mean for funders, for London, and for our communities, but we’ve highlighted 12 sections below that we think will be of interest to you.  Do drop James a line with your own thoughts on the strategy and how you’d like London Funders to work with you on the ideas it contains.
1. Working cross-sector
We heard loud and clear from our members through our own strategy consultation that the importance of working across sectors is paramount to building the communities we all wish to live in, so we’re pleased to see the importance of working across sectors reflected throughout the civil society strategy (starting with the Ministerial Foreword on p10 noting an ambition for “solutions that bring together public services, businesses and communities”, with further examples throughout the document).  We’ll be continuing to bring together funders from all sectors to help strengthen civil society and create a better London – check out our events page to see the upcoming opportunities for funders to come together.
2. Place-based giving
The growth of the London’s Giving movement is directly referenced in the strategy (p75), with a commitment to “look to see how government can support this movement to grow”.  There are clear financial commitments to this area of work, with a promise that “government will invest over £750,000 before 2020 in the growth of place-based giving schemes” (p75).  This is all building on the ambition highlighted in the strategy for “residents, community groups, businesses, service providers and local authority to work collaboratively to create a shared vision for the future of their place” highlighted on p40.  We’ll be looking at these commitments and ideas with the local giving schemes in London, but if you’d like to find out more about this work you can see the video and read the report “A Place to Give” on our website.
3. Civil society support
Through our work with members and stakeholders on The Way Ahead we know the challenges that civil society support organisations (from locally-based charities such as Volunteer Centres and Councils for Voluntary Service, to regional and specialist support providers) are facing, and have developed an action plan to start to tackle these.  Early on in the strategy (p24) there’s a clear “focus on the resilience of civil society organisations” and a commitment to the “sharing of information, data, ideas and networks” it needs to thrive, with the recognition that “just as business depends on available infrastructure to flourish, like transport and finance systems, social sector organisations depend on an appropriate support system” (p77).  We’re pleased to see some of the actions arising from The Way Ahead referenced as solutions to the needs of civil society, from the importance of co-design (p40) to the development of the Cornerstone Fund convened by City Bridge Trust (p36), and it was also good to see the work of the Selby Trust, a member of our Systems Change Group, recognised in a case study (p39).  We’ll be continuing to work across sectors on The Way Ahead over the coming years, but you may be interested in attending the events at City Hall organised by HEAR.
4. Emergency response
We contributed evidence from the funder response to emergencies, highlighting the findings from The possible not the perfect on how funders can respond in the future, as well as how this experience can help to shape “business as usual” in the sector.  The important work of funders in this area is recognised in the case study on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire (on pages 35-36), and we’ve also been contributing this experience through sitting on the advisory group at the Charity Commission looking at future responses to major incidents (referenced on p33 of the strategy).  We’ve held a number of workshops looking at the potential to implement the learning from emergencies, and have circulated notes from these to the people who took part – if you’d like to know more please get in touch with Geraldine.
5. Voice and influence
Members have expressed concern that there have been challenges to the voice and influence of civil society in recent years, so it is positive to see a more constructive tone through the civil society strategy, recognising the importance of the sector’s voice.  From early in the strategy there are commitments that “government is determined that charities and social enterprises should be fully confident in their right to speak in public debates and to have a strong role in shaping policy” (p14) and that they will convene a group to get this voice into policy-making – this is then expanded on in more detail in sections on the rules on campaigning, and on hearing from civil society, on p70. 
6. Young people
The strategy has strong commitments to young people, which will be of interest to the members of our Children and Young People Funders Network.  Importantly, there is a commitment that “government will review the guidance which sets out the statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide appropriate local youth services” (p42).  There are also sections dealing with safeguarding, with the commitment that “the government will further develop and implement measures to strengthen safeguarding in charities, including new guidance and support to help charities” – in the meantime, you might be interested in the notes from our last CYP Funders network which looked at this very issue.  Our members have been involved in other work referenced in the strategy, from the emergence of the Young People’s Foundations supported by John Lyons Charity (p41), the youth volunteering offer from Team London (p47), and the cross-sector work through the Partnership for Young London that is echoed in the ambition that “government engages meaningfully with young people when it is creating policy or designing programmes which affect them” (p45).  There are also timely commitments to work with young people at risk of serious violence (p41), which we’ll be picking up at our member meeting on serious youth violence on 18th September – if you’d like to be involved in this discussion.
7. Commitment to social value
Throughout the strategy there are references to strengthening the use of social value in helping to shape decisions, from the early commitment that “government will work with partners to design a coherent measure of social value” (p21) to developing areas of thinking such as “the government will explore the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts” and will explore whether “the Social Value Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer” (p115).  We’ll be looking to work with members through the Research and Evaluation Network and through our Borough Grants Officers Forum meetings to explore some of these ideas further – do keep an eye on our events calendar for more details.
8. Changes to commissioning
As well as a “revival of grant-making” (p111) through “Grants 2.0” (p16) there are strong recommendations around the future of commissioning, which will be of interest to our public sector members.  The strategy states that “the government’s vision is for public services in the modern era is one of collaborative commissioning.  This means that in the future, local stakeholders will be involved in an equal and meaningful way in commissioning and all the resources of a community, including but not confined to public funding, will be deployed to tackle the community’s challenges.  People will be trusted to co-design the services they use” (p106).  Some of this thinking is expanded on through a case study on a collaborative approach to commissioning and community participation (p55), but we’ll be looking to see how this thinking develops and will share updates through our regular mailings to members.
9. Developing digital and data
You’ll know from the work on The Way Ahead that digital developments are a critical part of the sector’s future, and this is echoed through the civil society strategy.  It notes that “it is essential for the social sector to be part of the digital revolution, and why the government is committed to bringing together digital and civil society” – we’re working with the GLA and colleagues across civil society on developments in digital and data for London, including a meeting this month on shaping the evidence base for London.  You’ll also know from our own strategy that we’re committed to help achieve better use of data in the funding community, with our friends at 360 Giving, and are supportive of the aspiration that “the government also wants to see a greater number of grant funders in the UK commit to greater transparency in grants funding data” (p112).  We’re starting our review of member funding this month – look out for more information coming your way shortly.
10. Community assets
The strategy notes that “there are many communities without high-quality facilities and the capacity to manage them” and commits that the government will “design a programme to look at the barriers to and opportunities for more sustainable hubs and spaces where they are most needed” (p54).  This is a theme from our own member feedback, and so we’re holding an event on 24 October to share learning and experiences with members – do look at our events page for more information and to get involved in this discussion.
11. Keeping it local
Recognising the vibrancy of London’s civil society, we’re pleased to see the recognition of the importance of small organisations (p24), echoing the findings of our member Lloyds Bank Foundation’s report The value of small.  There are interesting commitments to more participatory democracy (p53), and recognition of the potential of the citizen commissioners work undertaken by the London Borough of Sutton (p107), as well as local responses to health issues that will be of interest to our Healthy London Network members (including the promise of “12 Local Delivery Pilots…[with] up to £100m of Sport England investment over the next four years…[to address] the inactivity challenge” (p60).  We’ll be picking all these themes up in future member meetings, but do let us know what you think.
12. Growing philanthropy
The strategy highlights the pride in the UK being near the top of league tables for philanthropy and for innovations in social finance (p10), but recognises that “there are opportunities to build on the generosity of individuals and grow philanthropy event further” (p74).  We’ve been involved in a number of philanthropy reviews currently underway, from sitting on the advisory group for Centre for London’s “Giving in London” review (being launched next month), to convening members to contribute to the thinking of the Mayor of London’s team as they look at philanthropy.  We’ll be bringing together thinkers in the philanthropy space to debate the issues at our AGM and member event on 17 October, 5-7pm, details to follow to members soon, but we look forward to seeing you there.