`An act of defiance not defeat...'
After almost ten years of `fighting for the soul' of charities, voluntary groups and third sector organisations, the National Coalition of Independent Action (NCIA) has closed with a brutal message to those groups and their service users about a situation that "is now both desperate and dangerous"...
The NCIA has been researching, documenting and publicising the changes in the sector over the last decade, in which these organisations have moved from existing purely for those who need their help and support, to mini-businesses, which are now `service providers', reliant on contracts from authorities and all the control that entails.
"A crucial and damming effect of these changes has been the alarming extent to
which the critical voice of the voluntary sector has been silenced" states the NCIA "Open dissent, even mild informed criticism is now widely seen by local and national state agencies as unacceptable...
"Across the landscape, voluntary services have suffered a massive loss of ability to
think, act and speak independently, and especially to speak plainly and passionately where injustice and privation are being visited on their users and beneficiaries" it adds "We hope that this prospect will focus the minds of the many, many people in the voluntary sector who have accepted cuts and allowed the re-engineering of their work, and lead them to realise that this has to stop."
The NCIA slates the `failure of sector leadership', nationally from bodies like ACEVO and NCVO, which "have shamefully failed to oppose the discriminatory and disproportionate cuts to poor and vulnerable communities. Nor have they defended voluntary groups themselves from the constraints placed on them by the 'new normal'. Indeed, many national bodies have actively encouraged voluntary groups to enter the 'marketplace', bid to take over public services and form alliances with private contractors, many with reputations for criminality, dishonesty, poor employment practices and other abuses.
"At local level too" it adds "most Councils for Voluntary Services have accepted cuts, competitive behaviours and subservience to commissioning regimes without question. And there are few examples of involvement of these umbrella groups in campaigns to defend community rights and oppose cuts."
Accepting the `new normal' role of `service provider', `mutual', `social enterprise', `sub-contractor' for larger companies etc, has led to many voluntary organisations shutting down when contracts are cut or terminated - and there's loads of examples in Salford... Gears+, CRIS, CREST etc.
Meanwhile, states NCIA, "There is a growing gap between the larger charities and the rest. The former are better equipped to play the procurement game and many have moved into competing with each other and local groups for services contracts. Some of these charities are aggressive and predatory in their approach, driven by ambitions for market share rather than social purpose."
It's a situation that will be recognised by almost every third sector group in Salford and beyond...
"Cuts to public services and the living standards of the poorest people are the largest in living memory, with much more to come" states NCIA "These are the people for whom charities and voluntary groups exist and most (especially locally-based groups) face increased demand and falling income.
"This 'double indignity' should have galvanised anger and opposition within the voluntary sector but the opposite is almost entirely the case" it adds "Where there is
resistance to these public policies, it takes place largely outside the world of professionalised voluntary services by those directly affected and others standing with them in practical solidarity..."
Indeed, the Salford Star tried to replicate national NCIA research on the silencing of third sector groups for our last print issue* but no-one from these groups would speak to us, even anonymously! Even now, almost none of those who have contracts with Salford City Council or any other authority will go public on the state of hardship in the city. And, given that they are on the `coalface' of the cuts, this is scandalous...
"The cost of not facing up to this situation, and taking a stand, will be very high indeed" states NCIA, adding that "Our 'last word' is not a counsel of defeat but a call to arms..."
In a statement Penny Waterhouse, Co-Convenor of NCIA said:
"The future of charities and voluntary groups as an independent force for social change looks bleaker than at any other time. Why is it a surprise to anyone that public trust has fallen and so much reputational damage done? When charities outsource fundraising to harass donations out of people, compete aggressively for a share of privatised public services and form partnerships with profit-hungry global corporations, it is no wonder that the public has become cynical and suspicious. And it is no surprise that government is targeting the campaigning work of charities, in efforts to shut down opposition to the policies that are damaging millions of poor and vulnerable people.
"Back in 2006 when we started, our message that voluntary groups were losing their independence and must fight back was seen as scare mongering and off beam" she explained "The truth of this has now been accepted throughout the voluntary sector, with the consequences only too visible. NCIA does not need to make the case any longer; nobody can say they have not been warned.
"But NCIA cannot rescue voluntary groups from the mess they are now in only they can do it, if they so choose" she added "So we have decided to stop and we leave with pride and gratitude. The future lies with new alliances and ways of organising amongst voluntary and community groups, activists, unions, academics and others determined to halt the erosion of our social protections, the rise of gross inequality, the worship of profit and the demonisation of those damaged by such ideologies."
The Salford Star is one of 65 organisations that have signed an open letter about the closure of NCIA...
`Poverty, homelessness and inequality are increasing at break-neck speeds. Safety nets, rights and services are being eroded. Mean-spirited policies stalk the streets. Protest is on the increase. So we, the undersigned, are sorry to hear that the National Coalition of Independent Action (NCIA) is closing down.
`Over the last 10 years NCIA has rung an alarm bell alerting us to the progressive silencing of charities and voluntary groups as a force to resist the impoverishment of people and communities, the loss of rights and the privatisation of public services. Whilst we have not always agreed with NCIA's positions, its voice has been essential in reminding us of the duty to dissent within civil society. A duty often lost in the clamour for public service contracts and insider influence.
`But, as NCIA's closing statement says, "something else is needed to occupy the space we have taken". In particular, NCIA calls for continuing the alliances built between voluntary services, activists, unions, academics and others determined to halt the erosion of social protections, the rise of gross inequality, the worship of profit and the demonisation of those damaged by such ideologies both inside and outside the UK.
`We say thank you and goodbye to NCIA, and affirm that we will continue in our own ways to advance NCIA perspectives for voluntary groups independent from, and unfettered by, powerful outside interests, and committed to stand visibly and practically in solidarity with those facing injustices; to speak plainly about these injustices; and campaign vigorously for their end...'
42nd Street - Simone Spray; Adur Voluntary Action - Adrian Barritt; Mike Aiken - independent researcher; Assemblies for Democracy - Paul Feldman; bOLDr - Steve Lancashire; Boycott Workfare; Bradford Resource Centre Mike Quiggin; BRAP - Joy Warmington; Bullian Community Resource Centre - Belinda Lowis; Camden Voluntary Action Kevin Nunan; Centre for Welfare Reform - Simon Duffy; Children England - Kathy Evans; Chilypep - Lesley Pollard; CO2Connections - James Murphy; Communities Inc - Shamsher Chohan; Community Action Derby - Kim Harper; Community Action Milton Keynes - Alissa Pemberton; Community Development Network London - Matt Scott; Community Sector Coalition - Nick Beddow; De Montfort University - Jonathan Davies (personal capacity); Detention Forum - Eiri Ohtani; Directory of Social Change - Jay Kennedy; Disabled People Against the Cuts Steering Group - Linda Burnip; Disabled People Against the Cuts, NE & Cumbria - Gail Ward; Dudley Council for Voluntary Services Lorna Prescott; Edge Hill University - John Diamond; Equanomics Karen Chouhan; European Services Strategy Unit Dexter Whitfield; Faiths4Change - Laird Ryan; Glasgow Caledonian University Les Huckfield; Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit Denise McDowell; Hackney Unites Jane Holgate; Housing Justice - Alastair Murray; In Defence of Youth Work - Tony Taylor; Institute of Race Relations - Jenny Bourne; Keep Volunteering Voluntary - Penny Waterhouse; Lincolnshire Community Foundation - Gordon Hunter; Livesthroughfriends Bob Rhodes; London School of Economics Armine Ashkanian; Manchester Community Central MACC - Mike Wild; Manchester Metropolitan University - Carol Packham; Middlesborough Voluntary Development Agency Dinah Lane; Migrants Resource Centre Ros Lucas; Muslim Community Helpline Sarah Sherif; National Community Activist Network - Joe Taylor; Neighbourhood Networks - John Dalrymple; North Tyneside Women's Voices - Penny Remfry; Our NHS - Caroline Molloy; People's Republic of Southwark Liliana Dmitrovic; Question the Powerful - Henry Tam; Refugee Council - Maurice Wren; Renters' Rights London & Waltham Forest Renters - Rosie Walker; Sue Robson - community development practitioner; Salford Star - Stephen Kingston; Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations - Ruchir Shah; South West Foundation - Jan Crawley; Sussex Defend our NHS; Unite the Union - Sally Kosky & James Lazou; University of Northampton - Bob Colenutt; Voluntary Action Harrow Cooperative Alex Buckmire; Voluntary Action Lewisham Tony Nickson; Volunteer Centre Lewisham - Kay Kelleher; Volunteer Cornwall - Ian Jones; Water Adventure Centre - Lilian Pons; We Own It - Cat Hobbs; West Northumberland Foodbank - Jo Walker; World to Win - Corinna Lotz
To read the full statement from NCIA Our Last Word Fighting For The Soul of Voluntary Action click here
For further information on the work of NCIA and its public statement on closure click here.
To read the Salford Star article on `The Cuts, The Bullying and the Climate of Fear' see page 30 of the latest print issue click here