Hand-holding by the Office For Civil Society

The Office for Civil Society issued two short documents last week. There was a consultation about how it should take forward capacity-building in the sector, and a policy statement about building a stronger civil society.

Does the policy document add greatly to the sum of human knowledge? Not really. It was mostly a recapitulation of themes and programmes that have already been promulgated.

So perhaps its appearance had more to do with timing.
It came just after the announcement that Capacitybuilders and two other sector quangos were being abolished, and just before this week’s comprehensive spending review, widely perceived as a sort of Armageddon.
It reads, in fact, like an exercise in hand-holding – the government trying to tell the sector that, despite the knocks and the cuts, the Office for Civil Society remains committed to working with the sector.

The document also contains a welcome decision and an interesting new idea. The decision – subject to the spending review – is that contributions to local endowments will continue to be match-funded by the government. This was a popular aspect of the last administration’s approach, and Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, has done well to keep it.

The new idea is to set up local community funds and arrange for people to contribute to them with small voluntary surcharges on local purchases. There have been experiments with this, some of which have brought difficulties about how the ‘voluntary’ bit of the deal is organised. It will be instructive to see how it all develops.

The consultation on capacity-building has its moments too – especially the final few sentences, which make you really sit up and take notice. They are a beautifully logical description of how capacity-building in the sector should work.
But cynics might ask whether this is akin to all the beautifully logical descriptions of how the benefits system should work, all of which have so far been thwarted by the messy practicalities of real life.