The year ahead: How government can create a more impactful civil society

In our January issue, CSW asks experts to give their thoughts on the new government’s policy priorities. In this entry, Dan Corry discusses how prime minister Boris Johnson can use his majority to boost the effectiveness of charities

Photo: PA

By Dan Corry

13 Jan 2020

The Conservative manifesto said little about civil society. Yet a strong and effective charity and community sector is a vital part of a healthy society. Doing what it can to enable this should be high up prime minister Boris Johnson’s to do list.

Charities deliver services all over the country, helping create the social capital any healthy community needs. Promises in the Queen’s Speech to reduce homelessness and crime, along with pledges to rebalance social and economic outcomes across the country, can only be fulfilled with the help of charities, funders and community groups. To succeed, these organisations must be as impactful as possible.

At NPC we work with charities and funders to maximise impact. In our manifesto we identified a number of government actions that could help. Much of this comes down to an unrelenting focus on maximising the impact charities are having, openness in how data is shared between government, charities and funders, and a more inclusive approach to decision making.


Key recommendations include opening up government administrative data so we can assess the impact of social interventions. We helped set up the Justice Data Lab, one of the most successful collaborations between government and civil society. By sharing government data on reoffending with charities working in prisons, charities can see if they make a difference. Data Labs are a rare opportunity to bring digital, government and the social sector together. Government should expand these, starting with employment education and health.

Reinvigorating the Social Value Act by making social value a requirement in contracts, rather than an option, should be considered. Short and long-term social benefits must be properly factored in and costed alongside the more immediate, direct costs. We also need data on where the Social Value Act has led to increased investment in social outcomes. The government should publish data on the number, proportion and value of contracts going to charities through commissioning, so we can understand what is happening and address unjustified variations across services and geographies.

Government should also require charity trustees to report their impact. Charity trustees should report on their organisation’s impact in relation to their core mission and how they plan to improve. Regulators should question the charitable status of those repeatedly unable to demonstrate any impact.

Charities should be involved in the conversation on how EU funding is replaced after Brexit. Letting them help design and delivery of post-Brexit funding, including the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, would ensure they are tailored to encourage cross-sector service delivery and data sharing. If government uses Local Economic Partnerships to distribute funding, then it must ensure it includes much more representation from charities to maximise the social impact of this money.

Part funding an independent Civil Society Improvement Agency should also be considered to encourage a much stronger focus on improving the impact of charities, particularly through peer review. The emphasis would be on good governance, data and collaboration.

The new government has made a commitment to introduce a raft of new social policies. A strong, effective and impactful charity sector, will be critical to their success.

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