Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Don't believe everything the "Community Sector Coalition" tell you - especially when its members don't do much community work!

I stumbled across a bizarre critique of Big Society from something called the "Community Sector Coalition". For a moment I thought this might be a serious, thoughtful and considered analysis of the idea's weaknesses but instead it turns out to be another example of special pleading from a group of organisations that are what "third sector" folk refer to as "infrastructure" organisations.

These organisations adopt a representative, advocacy and advisory role for voluntary groups and organisations. Some - like those providing practical support on fundraising, finance, policies and HR - provide a pretty useful service which, frankly, voluntary groups should be prepared to pay for. But too many of these 'infrastructure' groups have got onto the merry-go-round of discussion, debate, analysis, pseudo-research and what the "sector" calls advocacy (but everyone else calls lobbying).

Now, I've nothing against any of this activity except to say that I do not see any reason at all why the government should pay grants to organisations so they can lobby the government to pay more grants to organisations that then lobby the government to pay more grants to... get the gist?

Not surprisingly the "Community Sector Coalition" (none of whose members seem actually to do any community work) thinks the Big Society is a smokescreen for cuts. The "sector's" trade magazine - Third Sector - describes the meeting where this group discussed Big Society:

More than 30 organisations aired their concerns at the Community Sector Coalition meeting and made plans to tackle the "sham" of the big society initiative

More than 30!! Wow! Out of the tens or thousands of community groups only 30 want to have a pop at Big Society. And those 30 aren't really community groups at all but publicly funded 'networks', 'alliances', 'national associations', 'advisory services', 'institutes' and so forth. Not surprisingly such groups - as far removed from the Big Society as you can get - are worried that their cosy stipends paid with taxpayers' cash will disappear.

Big Society isn't about these groups but about not needing permission, 'infrastructure' or 'advocacy' to get on and do things - social action isn't about "the sector" it's about the rest of us. For all the great work done by voluntary groups, social enterprises and charities there are too many "Community Sector Coalitions" - too much talking, meeting and moaning and not enough doing, creating and having fun.



manwiddicombe said...

As you mentioned it .. .. .. *ANY* organisation that receives money from the government should automatically, as a condition of that award, be prevented from lobbying the government.

Or, if you prefer, the government should be prevented from funding organisations that lobby the government to make changes that the government wants to make but the public don't want (I'm thinking Alcohol Concern).

Matt Birkinshaw said...


The CSC is a broad church, (we prefer 'baggy tent') and the discussion on Tuesday was certainly far more nuanced than John Plummer's sensationalist reporting suggests. Our members are overwhelmingly national networks _of_ community groups, representing c.70,000 local groups between them. However, rather than special pleading, the people expressing the strongest views against big society and the cuts at the meeting came not from big infrastructure organisations but from those working closest to the ground and more conscious of the effects of the cuts on the communities they work with. Indeed CSC has consistently championed the position of small scale community groups against the larger, over-represented and some would argue, over-funded voluntary sector. See our paper Unleashing the Potential available at for more info...


Matt Birkinshaw