Radio 4 puts NCIA line, then reaches some strange conclusions

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‘What are charities for?’ was the theme of last Monday’s Radio 4 ‘Analysis’ programme. 25 minutes of powerful evidence, including from interviews with us, set out the stall of how state co-option and contracting has sapped the independence of charities and all but extinguished the fire in their belly to fight for social justice. But in the last 5 minutes, the presenter Fran Abrams, rather went off on one, concluding that we were all a bunch of self interested complainers, (and “children of the 60s” in the case of our NCIA spokespeople) motivated by quasi- religious beliefs about virtue.

The only person, apparently, with their sleeves rolled up, ready to help the needy, was one Baroness Stedman- Scott, stedmanscottdeborah250_3who openly trumpeted that her organisation – Tomorrow’s People – functioned exactly like her corporate private sector mates. Indeed, it was she who, in 2011, proposed that the voluntary sector should be renamed the ‘not-for-dividend’ sector and the biggest charities should be ranked in an investors’ league table according to the value they create.

Tomorrow’s People, readers will recall, was the charity that served up a number of its trainees for a spot of unpaid work at the Olympics last year, via a security firm partner called Close Protection UK. The hapless trainees were dumped under London Bridge at 3am in the morning and told to sleep rough. Sounds like a good way to toughen them up and get them ready for the University of Life.

You can hear the repeat of the programme this coming Sunday, the 20th – Radio 4 at 9.30pm – or you can listen to the podcast now – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03cmnzs . We’d like to hear what you thought of it so we can pass the feedback to Fran.

  • Tea addict

    Interesting programme but I too disagree with the logic of Fran’s conclusions. She identifies with consequentialist ethics, but then uses this to dismiss concerns about voluntary sector contracts with government.
    I too identify with consequentialist ethics – at the end of the day, I care most about impact. However, IF the evidence shows that the longer-term “consequences” of voluntary sector contracting include charities being marginalised in both service delivery (e.g. run through private sector prime contractors) and voice (e.g. suppressed by contracts such as those that cited in the programme), then I am not convinced that this is the impact that I want to see!
    Personally, I am not against voluntary sector contracts with government in principle, but I am concerned about emerging evidence that the nature of these contracts may be threatening the ability of charities to represent grassroots views and stay true to their missions.
    Above all, a consequentialist ethical viewpoint needs to rely on evidence. My question to Fran would be: Where is the evidence that voluntary sector contracts with government lead to the best long-term outcomes across society? I’m interested to hear her response!

  • G Lloyd

    I was completely surprised by Fran Abrams conclusions. Throughout the main body of the programme I was feeling ‘thank goodness someone has taken the time to put together the arguments that support what I am now feeling’

    I cannot understand how she has reached her conclusions and I feel any support to a move down the American route will be disastrous. I can only conclude that she has missed the point. The success of the not for profit sector in the uk rests of a rich patchwork of small localised groups all of which are now losing out to the growing corporate approach to voluntary sector funding. This is not only restricted to government funding, but also the worrying direction of the grants offered by the big giving bodies – the Lottery, Children in Need, comic relief etc.

    Along with government these are also increasingly dictating what the sector can provide.

  • G Lloyd

    I was completely surprised by Fran Abrams conclusions. Throughout the main body of the programme I was feeling ‘thank goodness someone has taken the time to put together the arguments that support what I am now feeling’

    I cannot understand how she has reached her conclusions and I feel any support to a move down the American route will be disastrous. I can only conclude that she has missed the point. The success of the not for profit sector in the uk rests on a rich patchwork of small localised groups all of which are now losing out to the growing corporate approach to voluntary sector funding. This is not only restricted to government funding, but also the worrying direction of the grants offered by the big giving bodies – the Lottery, Children in Need, comic relief etc.

    Along with government these are also increasingly dictating what the sector can provide.

  • Andy Benson

    thanks both, for your comments, which are reassuring to those of us who were interviewed for the programme. The conclusion that we are motivated by quasi-religious ideas about virtue and our own edification to the point that we’re not bothered about what’s happening to service users and whole communities as a result of these changes was a bit of a surprise to us!
    As part of our Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services (see elsewhere on the site for further information) we are looking critically at the proposition that voluntary services are more efficient and effective than public services run directly by statutory bodies. In some areas (learning difficulties and mental health for example) it is clear that voluntary sector involvement has had a dramatic innovative effect over the years in challenging stale and sometimes abusive practice but that isn’t necessarily a good reason to assume that whole areas of statutory responsibility can be simply transferred to voluntary agencies. If you’ve views or stories to tell about the issues raised in the programme, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch via andy@independentaction.net
    Andy Benson