Office for Civil Society chief upbeat on move from Cabinet Office to Culture department

Director Mark Fisher flags OCS’s connections with new home and says latest government restructuring is “vital”

By Jim Dunton

25 Jul 2016

The director of the Office for Civil Society has insisted that the unit shares numerous “synergies” with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), following its relocation from the Cabinet Office.

Mark Fisher said prime minister Theresa May’s decision to move the OCS, which was responsible for delivering many elements of David Cameron’s “Big Society” agenda, including the National Citizen Service, the mutualisation agenda, and social-impact bonds was part of a “vital” restructuring of the machinery of government.

When the OCS’s move was announced late last week, some commentators saw the move as a formalisation of the loss of interest in the Big Society agenda that was much talked-about in the early years of Cameron's coalition government.

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New prime minister May said the move was designed to “integrate OCS’s work to grow a stronger civil society with DCMS’s existing work to enrich lives” and also pointed to a streamlining of functions related to the Big Lottery Fund that would now be consolidated in one department.

Writing a blog on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ website, OCS director Fisher said the unit’s 10-plus years at the Cabinet Office represented “a long stint in a department that is traditionally associated with being an incubator”.

He said that in addition to the Big Lottery Fund, other synergies with the DCMS included its existing charity brief, which included museums and sports organisations.

“They are focused on innovation and driving growth, something which resonates with our agenda to lead public sector reform through Social Impact Bonds, the Social Value Act, the Commissioning Academy and mutuals, not to mention our work to grow the social investment market and support mission-led business,” he said.

“DCMS’s commercial expertise is evident in the UK’s world-class media and sports industries. I am sure that the experience in this field will help to nurture our thriving social enterprise sector.
“Their sponsorship of the Information Commissioner’s Office will bring OCS closer to key regulations affecting, for example, charities’ fundraising practices.”

Fisher said he believed  there would be “many new avenues and levers” for OCS to use in delivering its policy agenda from its base at DCMS.

He also praised minister for civil society Rob Wilson, who moves to DCMS with the OCS brief, as having a clear record of championing the social economy.

“He is also determined that OCS will continue its important work to promote social action for people of all ages, grow the social economy, foster informal learning for young people and ensure an independent and sustainable voluntary sector,” Fisher said.

Reacting to the OCS announcement last week, NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said there were “reasonable questions” about whether the role of charities in public services could be dealt with by DCMS in the same way they could at the Cabinet Office.

Jill Rutter, programme director at the Institute for Government, 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.

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