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Devolution should be ‘reset’ to include voluntary sector

Voluntary sector leaders have said the devolution process should be reformed to ensure charities are properly represented as service providers.

At the Devolution and Voluntary Sector Summit last week, leaders of 30 charities signed a statement of devolution principles. The charities argued that whilst the devolution process was valuable, it should “be tailored to communities and places by people”.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said: “I am delighted that we were able to come together to develop a vision for devolution.

“The next step is to reset the devolution agenda based on the full involvement of the voluntary sector as an active partner to support communities.”

The organisations, including Age UK, Women’s Aid and Children England, said there should be a commitment to allow charities to engage people and communities, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, in decision-making.

The statement argued that devolution needs to be “visible and accountable” and “not leave anyone behind”.

Recently the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised the devolution process for being “unclear and inconsistent”, and the IPPR claimed that Greater Manchester’s flagship health devolution is actually closer to delegation than true devolution.

In July, a report from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) also argued that the devolution process so far has been too centralised and focused on austerity.

Today, Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, said: “There is a clear opportunity for devolution to harness the capacity and ideas of local people and organisations to transform their communities.

“But there is a risk that the devolution agenda is missing this potential.”

The charity-backed statement also said devolved bodies should not agree a financial settlement until they had identified the needs and resources, including voluntary organisations, in the area.

There should then be an agreement between local authorities, elected officials and the voluntary sector about the design, commissioning, funding and delivery of public services, it added.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, said: “People who are too young, too frail or simply too far away to get heard in centralised decision making will simply live closer to institutions that don’t represent them if charities don’t take a strong advocacy role in devolution.”

She also called for “the most vulnerable” to be involved in “an ongoing conversation” about devolution.

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