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Turn down devolution deals unless plans involve third sector, Whitehall told

Whitehall should not sign any other devolution deals unless organisations can prove that the voluntary sector was involved in the development of these plans, as well as how it can be involved in the implementation process, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has argued

In a report, the charity representative body suggested that, as part of the drive towards greater transparency in devolution, a set of clear criteria against which all future devo bids are assessed should seek to prove whether the local voluntary sector was involved in the process.

There are no existing criteria by central government for how devo deals are made, which the NCVO argued leaves it unclear whether consultation by councils with local charities, businesses and other groups is truly necessary or valued.

But engaging charities should be seen as a crucial stepping stone given their “extensive reach” in their respective communities, thus helping ensure the views of the widest possible public sample are heard and considered.

These calls come a few months after leaders of 30 different charities signed a statement of devolution principles at the Devolution and Voluntary Sector Summit in September last year, ultimately calling for a “reset” of the entire devo agenda based on the full involvement of the third sector as an active partner.

Now, NCVO has suggested that criteria against which to judge future deals should include minimum standards for engagement with the voluntary sector as well as other local stakeholders, and plans that show how the sector will be involved in the implementations of new powers.

The criteria put forward in the report are based on guidance issued earlier this year by Locality and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), about which Tony Armstrong wrote in the latest issue of PSE. Barney Mynott, the head of public affairs at NAVCA, spoke to us last year about the opportunities and challenges of unlocking the ‘devolution revolution’ through the support of the third sector.

The representation of the voluntary and community sector should extend to newly-developed boards and working groups related to devolution, NCVO explained, as well as existing leadership structures such as LEPs and Health and Wellbeing Boards.

The organisation claimed that very few charities have been included in discussions thus far, resulting in “lost potential for radically redesigned services” that are tailored to their local communities – one of the basic tenets of devolution.

Karl Wilding, its director of public policy, added: “So far, devolution seems like a missed opportunity to involve many of those to whom it was meant to return power. If devolution just centralises power in town halls then we’re destined to continue the disillusionment and disengagement of old.

“There are great opportunities in devolution for charities to play a bigger role and help ensure that authorities get and use the powers they need to best serve all their communities. We’d like to see local authorities involving the voluntary sector from the very start of the devolution process in order to ensure the voices of all communities are heard and to make the most of these opportunities.”

The NCVO is also concerned that the current focus on economic development might come at the expense of public service reforms, added Wilding – ultimately jeopardising the potential for reshaping services around community assets and needs.

“I’m hopeful the agreement by government of devolution deals in future will be far more transparent and collaborative,” he argued.

“The prime minister has been clear that she expects the state to do more to work with voluntary sector as part of her shared society vision, and we look forward to helping put this into practice.”

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