Responsibility for the mutualisation agenda and payment by results has been stripped from the Cabinet Office and handed to the Department for Culture Media and Sport under changes announced by new prime minister Theresa May.
The move is part of the transfer of the Office for Civil Society between the departments, described by May as designed to “integrate OCS’s work to grow a stronger civil society with DCMS’s existing work to enrich lives”.
A Cabinet Office explanatory note confirmed DCMS would now be responsible for “supporting an increase in public service mutuals”; examining how the government can build on innovative ways of delivering high-quality public services; and scaling up social impact bonds and payment-by-results focused on youth unemployment, mental health and homelessness.
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It will also lead on volunteering programmes including the Prince of Wales’s “Step up to Serve” programme and National Citizen Service initiatives.
The briefing document said expanding DCMS with the addition of the OCS roles would clarify accountability and sponsorship related to the Big Lottery Fund, which were previously split between the Cabinet Office and DCMS.
It added that responsibility for the Policy Lab and the Business Partnerships Team would remain with the Cabinet Office, despite their OCS ties.
Last month, Sir Stephen Bubb - chief executive of charity leaders network AVECO - told Civil Service World he believed charities had a much diminished relationship with government than had been the case in 2010.
Jill Rutter, programme director at the Institute for Government, said moving OCS appeared to underscore the demotion of the Big Society agenda, compounding former prime minister David Cameron’s loss of interest in it.
“The general rule is that you shouldn’t have units in the Cabinet Office unless the policies have a lot of heft behind them,” she said.
Rutter questioned whether DCMS was the best home for youth policy and payment by results. However, she accepted that there was an “obvious fit” for the Big Lottery Fund.
Sir Stuart Etherington – chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations – said the third sector had an important role in helping to deliver the social justice agenda set out by May last week.
But added that there were “reasonable questions” about whether the role of charities in public services could be dealt with in the by DCMS in the same way they could at the Cabinet Office.
“This is not an insurmountable challenge but will require some focus,” he said.
“The pivotal role of charities and volunteering in every aspect of public life must be a central part of this new government's agenda.
“We hope that together we can keep up momentum on helping charities to make a bigger difference in every area of society, and we look forward to further productive discussions on supporting the UK's strong volunteering culture.”
Rob Wilson was minister for civil society at the Cabinet Office and retains the role after moving to DCMS as parliamentary under secretary of state.